Disability Amendment Bill 2013
Written on the 12 December 2013
There are some 5000 people in supported accommodation in Victoria, about half of whom are in Department of Human Services-run homes. Not only do people with disabilities face physical, social and attitudinal barriers that exclude them from participating fully as equal members of our society, but they also face financial pressure. People with a disability largely get by on their disability support pension. This is not a huge amount of money; it is a tight daily budget and for many a tight daily struggle.The government's proposed fee hikes in this bill will mean that people with a disability will have even less discretionary income to do some of the things that many of us take for granted: go out and have a cup of coffee with friends, go to the movies and participate in many activities that make life enjoyable. The bill will restrict them even further from participating in our community. Put simply, the bill goes against all that disability policies should be about.
Last week, on 3 December, we all celebrated International Day of People with Disability. This is a significant day where we need to focus on breaking down barriers. I am pleased that this year's theme was 'Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society and development for all', because that is a very important goal. A large part of this is giving people with a disability the same right as others to participate in society, having a real voice to be heard, to be treated equally, to have greater independence and choice and to be equal partners in decisions that affect their lives. These principles should be more than just rhetoric. There needs to be a real commitment to inclusion and supporting people with disabilities, a real shift in attitude towards the way we see people with a disability.
For many years in Australia the lack of integration between the aged-care, disability and health-care sectors has resulted in a fragmented and duplicated approach to care and services, but with the introduction of the national disability and insurance scheme (NDIS) I have faith and hope that this will change. The NDIS is a groundbreaking initiative of the Gillard Labor government. It will transform the way disability services are provided in Australia. As a member of the Labor Party I am extremely proud of this initiative, and I pay tribute to Julia Gillard and also Bill Shorten for his role in making this a reality. It is not just about providing individual supports but about opening up opportunities for social activities and networks and, most importantly, providing connections to local communities. This is what real action is about.
I ask government members: what part of this bill achieves those principles?What part of this bill is about giving people with disabilities a voice, when this same government is introducing this bill without consulting those people themselves? What part of equality does the government take to mean a bill that will limit the rights of people with a disability to appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)? Most importantly, where is the fairness in this bill?
Instead we have a bill from a government that is once again ignoring the voices of people with a disability and the voices of those advocating on their behalf.
It is important that we remember that on the same day that the Minister for Disability Services and Reform introduced this bill in the other house the government also announced a review by the State Services Authority into charges and fees across the disability accommodation sector. The media release accompanying this bill states that the government is to consult over a new board and lodging fee structure for disability accommodation. This is likely to lead to some winners but many losers as extra fees and charges vary from house to house. What the minister is trying to do is impose a one-size-fits-all approach in a sector which has become more individualised with the advent of the NDIS. Any right-thinking person would believe that you review first and legislate later, especially given the complexities of the disability sector and group homes.The Labor opposition regards it as odd that the government has chosen to change the law before the outcome of this review has been completed. As I understand it, the government's review is to be completed by March next year, so it would not be entirely unreasonable for the Napthine government to wait just a few more months before proceeding with this bill. Given the extreme complexities of the sector it is vital that changes are made with full knowledge of the consequences. In essence the minister has put the cart before the horse with this bill, and these are sentiments that are echoed throughout the sector.
In their media release of 11 November 2013 the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with a Disability (VALID) and Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service stated:
Consideration of the bill, which aims to introduce a board and lodging fees structure for the 2100 residents of state-managed group homes for people with disability, should be postponed in order to allow a proposed review of disability service fees to be conducted by the State Services Authority.
The media release goes on to state that:
... VALID and Villamanta have concluded that the bill is being proposed without proper consultation with the sector and without due consideration of its potential impacts ...
That all the words after 'That' be omitted with the view of inserting in their place 'this house refuses to read this bill a second time until the government has completed a review into disability accommodation fees and charges, following appropriate consultation with residents, carers, families and other stakeholders'.
I ask that copies of the reasoned amendment be circulated.I indicate to the house that should this reasoned amendment fail, I will also be moving amendments to the bill that propose to delete a large number of the provisions in clause 4. Should these amendments also fail -- as I am expecting they will, given the position the government took in the Assembly -- --
Mr Lenders interjected.Ms MIKAKOS -- I am hopeful of my persuasive powers, Mr Lenders.
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- I am worried about your self-esteem.Ms MIKAKOS -- No. I just know that you are very predictable, Minister Lovell.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Through the Chair.Ms MIKAKOS -- Should these amendments also fail in the committee stage, I indicate to the house that the Labor opposition will be opposing this bill. By way of context for this issue, the disability sector is a very complex area and I want to give some background on just how this bill has come about.
In the last state budget the government sought to standardise board and lodging fees in Department of Human Services (DHS) accommodation. This was described in the budget papers under a list of revenue-raising initiatives which sought to raise some $44 million over four years from around 2500 of our most vulnerable Victorians. This equates to around $18 000 per resident. The impact of this fee hike would have seen accommodation charges increase from between 48 per cent to 57 per cent of the disability support pension to 75 per cent of the disability support pension and 100 per cent of commonwealth rental assistance.
At present the disability support pension is worth around $19 000, with commonwealth rental assistance bringing the total annual income of these residents to around $22 000. That is a very modest amount of money. Currently DHS fees are around $10 000 to $12 000. This represents on average between 48 per cent to 57 per cent of the disability support pension. Under the proposed fee hike these fees would have risen to around $17 500, leaving most residents in severe financial difficulty and those without family support facing destitution. This cannot be described as anything other than a cruel and callous cash grab.It is just not good enough to say that this is commensurate with what happens in the private system. I had a conversation with someone in my office just yesterday about this issue. She has a son with quite profound disabilities who lives in private accommodation. The mother said to me that her son was left with just $40 per fortnight in discretionary income. I was just astounded.
This is a single mother on an aged-care pension who is having to go to Centrelink to borrow money by taking part of her pension in cash advances in order to give her son the most basic luxuries. She described one of the things he craves as Coca-Cola. It is unbelievable that people are in this position in this day and age. This is a mother with a son who is in private accommodation. That the government would want to put more people in that position is just extraordinary.In response to this full-frontal assault on the dignity and financial independence of Victorians with a disability, an active campaign was led by VALID that encompassed residents, parents, carers, the union movement and the Villamanta Disability Legal Service. I pay tribute to each of the organisations and individuals involved on bringing this issue to prominence, because they are speaking on behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
The campaign also saw a 7000-signature-strong petition tabled in the Parliament by the shadow minister for disability services, Danielle Green -- --Mr Drum -- Credibility there!
Ms MIKAKOS -- She is actually doing a fantastic job on behalf of the sector; I can assure Mr Drum of that. In addition to this, as I understand it, a total of 1800 DHS residents sought a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) review of the fee hike. I note that this figure has been disputed by some members of the government in the other place. The issue is that a significant number of residents who were concerned about this took the government to VCAT. The government's lawyers argued that VCAT had no jurisdiction to hear these cases. Then, when the government knew it was going to lose money, it backed off on the fee hike; coincidently it backed off on the day before the federal election.The VCAT ruling also had implications for the wider sector as potentially it meant that any fee increase could be challenged.
It is entirely reasonable for disability providers to be afforded certainty, and members on this side of the house wholeheartedly support that principle, but we also support the principle that the needs of disability providers must be balanced against the needs of some of Victoria's most vulnerable people, many of whom are already reliant on family financial support just to make ends meet, as I indicated earlier.I take this opportunity to congratulate the large number of opposition members who spoke on the debate in the Assembly. I read through all of the report of the debate. There were some very passionate contributions. People spoke from the heart about their personal experiences and those of their family. There were some very moving contributions.
The debate was ably led by Danielle Green, the member for Yan Yean in the Assembly and the shadow minister for disability services. I congratulate all opposition members who spoke in the Assembly and who strongly advocated on behalf of those who are badly affected by this legislation.In reading the debate I found it extraordinary that the Minister for Community Services was making constant points of order during the contributions of opposition members and was trying to shut down debate on things she did not want said. She did not cover herself in any glory by trying to whitewash history and claim on numerous occasions that the VCAT case was not related to this bill. I found it quite extraordinary that the minister made that assertion. In fact she continued to maintain afterwards that fees for state-run disability care should be brought in line with fees in the community and private sector and that she was considering legislation to enact this increase. I saw the minister interviewed on ABC's 7.30 on 6 September.
She indicated that because things did not work out at VCAT, the government was going to legislate. That is what it has done. To then try to rewrite history is a bizarre undertaking.
This bill is absolutely related to the government's loss at VCAT. The bill is really about budget savings. Government members should be honest about the fact the bill is about privatising disability services. It is about increasing fees so that they are commensurate with what people pay in the private system. When that happens, the government will say that it might as well just get the non-government sector and private providers to run those facilities, given the fees are the same. I know that is what Shergold is about. I know what the government's secret Vertigan report is all about. It is about borrowing from David Cameron's 'big society' policy -- that is, shrinking government services and shifting responsibilities onto not-for-profit organisations in the philanthropic sector and hoping they will pick up the slack. Just as the Australian predicted on 28 August 2012 in light of the leaked Vertigan report, this is exactly what is coming to pass.
The article in the Australian said -- --
Mr Drum -- You haven't lifted your eyes up. You're reading someone else's speech.Ms MIKAKOS -- I advise Mr Drum that I am reading a quote.
He might listen and learn something about what his own government is doing whilst he is sitting on his hands. In relation to the leaked Vertigan report the Australian said -- --Mrs Coote -- What date?
Ms MIKAKOS -- It was 28 August 2012. Mrs Coote can look it up and learn. The article says:Officials associated with the review say that, wherever possible, the government should get out of directly delivering services, such as welfare, early childhood education and housing. Rather than simply outsourcing government functions, it calls on the government to create competitive markets so that charities and other private bodies would bid for government contracts.
We know exactly what the plan is. We are seeing it in aged-care services. I referred to it today in question time in a question to the Minister for Ageing -- --
Mrs Coote -- On a point of order, Acting President, this is a bill about disabilities. We are not discussing aged care; we are discussing disabilities. I ask you to bring the member back to the bill at hand.Ms MIKAKOS -- On the point of order, Acting President, as the lead speaker I have some flexibility in terms of my approach. I am giving context as to the government's agenda here, which is to get out of government services. That is what the government is doing in disability services.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! The lead speaker does get some leeway.I suggest to Ms Mikakos, however, that if she heads out in that direction, she invites comment from the other side. I ask her to come back to the bill.
Ms MIKAKOS -- I know that members opposite are very sensitive about this issue. I am sure most of them are completely in the dark about it. Some parliamentary secretaries in the back may well be privy to parts of this agenda, but they would do very well to not put themselves in the same predicament -- --Mrs Coote -- On a point of order, Acting President, the contributor is putting words into my mouth and casting aspersions on my point of view which are completely unjustified. I ask her to apologise.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I do not uphold the point of order, but I remind Ms Mikakos that if she strays into unknown territory, it will come back the other way. I ask her to come back to the bill.
Ms MIKAKOS -- On a point of order, Acting President, I think the comment you just made is highly unusual for an Acting Chair. It could be misread as a threat.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! It is certainly not. Ms Mikakos should continue with the bill.Ms MIKAKOS -- I will continue, but the point I make is that if Mrs Coote and others are so sensitive to my accusing them of being in the dark, I draw the conclusion that they are culpable for the government's decision to privatise disability services.
The point that needs to be made is that in the course of debate on this bill in the Assembly, a whole lot of government members made categorical comments and claimed that people with disabilities would not be worse off under this legislation. Those members might rue the day they made such statements. When government members in this place get up shortly and make their contributions to the debate, they will need to be very careful to stick to the government talking points. Otherwise they will rue the day they made a whole lot of comments claiming that people will not be worse off when they know full well that people will be worse off.It is interesting that members of the government are seeking to put in place legislation that is making the lives of people with disabilities even more difficult. The government claimed it was going to address cost of living pressures, and it has done nothing but add to those pressures.
The bill we are discussing today speaks volumes about the direction in which this government is heading.
We had the Minister for Housing and Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, who is in the house at the moment, putting out a release that summed it up wonderfully. She said:
In tough economic times ... the soul of a government can be seen in the areas it prioritises for funding ...
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I do not uphold the point of order, but I do remind Ms Mikakos that she should stick to the bill.Ms MIKAKOS -- I note that members of the government are very sensitive about this, and so they should be. They should hang their heads in shame because this bill is an absolute abomination. It is an abomination that they have brought into this Parliament. They have chosen to add to the cost of living pressures faced by countless Victorians with a disability, and they have done so without even consulting the sector.
Coming now to the bill, I wish to read a statement put out by Lifestyle in Supported Accommodation, titled -- --Honourable members interjecting.
Ms Hartland -- On a point of order, Acting President, I am trying to listen to this contribution because I will follow Ms Mikakos, and I would like to be able to hear what she is saying without interjection. I hope that when I get to speak I will be heard in silence.The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Thank you very much. Ms Mikakos should be allowed to continue without assistance from anyone in the chamber.
Ms MIKAKOS -- Thank you, Acting President, I am very pleased that Ms Hartland is interested in my contribution, even if others are not. I know also that Mr Leane and Mr Scheffer are interested, as is Ms Darveniza. I was referring to a statement put out by Lifestyle in Supported Accommodation, titled 'Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing!', which gives a sense of the outrage felt by the sector. In the statement of 15 November 2013, it says:
The minister initially made a direct grab for unjustified DSP -- that is, disability support pension -- cash, and lost. As a direct result, she has become even more determined to get her way. This time she is more sneaky and determined to, by stealth, achieve a similar cost hike eventually. I think that says a great deal.This is only a short bill; it does not have a lot of clauses in it. If the government's rhetoric were to be believed, you would think it was benign and not worth worrying about. But really it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Lifestyle in Supported Accommodation has it absolutely right.
Under this bill any increases that are linked to CPI and are below the threshold of 75 per cent of the disability support pension cannot be challenged at VCAT. That is what the government is asking hundreds of vulnerable Victorians to accept.The bill itself has three barely comprehensible formulas, which if you look closely reveal a massive cash grab from a government more interested in ripping off vulnerable Victorians than allowing them to live with dignity and a degree of independence. Clause 4 introduces new section 72A, which gives the government the power to exercise this cash grab. It allows providers to implement charges linked not only to the disability support pension but also to the commonwealth rent assistance by up to nearly 40 per cent without any recourse to VCAT. I should point out this is happening today, of all days, on the international Human Rights Day.
Mr Scheffer interjected.Ms MIKAKOS -- I believe it is; it is Human Rights Day. It is a very significant day.
Mrs Coote -- Every day is a day for human rights.Ms MIKAKOS -- Absolutely, Mrs Coote, I agree with you on that. As someone who has been a member of Amnesty International for 20-plus years, I absolutely agree with you. The thing that galls me is that on the day we celebrate human rights around the world we are debating a bill in the Legislative Council that is taking away the human rights of people with disabilities. It is taking away their right to go to VCAT. I find that just appalling.
I wonder why the government feels the need to shield itself from the appeals of vulnerable Victorians.
Government members should ask themselves what the practical application of this bill will be. They should ask what the practical implications of this will be on vulnerable Victorians. If they cannot work it out from the convoluted formulas in this bill, I do not blame them, because for a bill the government claims is simple and straightforward it is anything but.The Labor opposition is not against measures relating to the cost of living increases, because greater certainty is required for the sector, but it is only the last formula, in proposed new section 72A(2)(c), that somehow balances this right and the rights of Victorians to be able to challenge rate hikes at VCAT. The other two formulas have a sting in the tail. Ultimately the government is claiming that all the cost shifting should not harm residents, as it believes that residents will now be able to claim the commonwealth assistance to cover the gap. However, despite claiming that no-one with a disability should be receiving commonwealth rent assistance, we know this is false.
There are countless families that have come forward and stated that they are already in receipt of such allowances.We know the minister's chief of staff attended a meeting where a third of people in the room put up their hands when they were asked whether they were already in receipt of the commonwealth rent assistance. The minister might be assuming that these people are claiming this payment incorrectly, but the reality is that people are already receiving this payment, and because of that they are going to be significantly adversely affected by this legislation. Many residents will be financially impacted by a move to change the fee structure from one indexed to the disability support pension to one indexed to both the disability support pension and the commonwealth rent assistance.
We note that VALID wrote a letter to the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, dated 5 December, after the completion of the passage of the bill in the Legislative Assembly, again outlining its concerns about the bill. It stated:... VALID has been deeply concerned by claims made by yourself -- that being the minister -- and the department that:there has been proper consultation with the sector -- when on this bill there was none residents of DHS-managed group homes are ineligible to receive the commonwealth rental assistance -- when it appears many are currently receiving itsome parents/administrators might have been wrongfully claiming the commonwealth rental assistance (CRA) -- when Centrelink itself has considered all available information and made its determination accordingly
no person with a disability will be financially worse off as a result of the Disability Amendment Bill -- when it is clear those currently receiving the CRA stand to lose up to $2132 per annum
In its letter, VALID went further to say it expresses its severe disappointment with the way this matter has been handled.
It is clear that as each day passes more Victorians are seeing this government for what it really is. It is a government willing to impose measures that will cause significant hardship for those who can least afford it and who least deserve it. The minister wants Victorians to believe that this bill is not about bringing back the attempted fee hike; however, given the allowable non-contestable increases of up to $3224 within this bill, how could a cynic believe otherwise?Labor believes this bill should be delayed until after a full and open, transparent review of disability accommodation is completed. The government did not support the reasoned amendment the opposition moved in the Legislative Assembly.
I hope the level of opposition and concern in the community about this bill that the government has seen will give it cause to reflect and to decide that it is in its best interests as well as the interests of the affected residents to actually wait for the State Services Authority to conclude its review, and to wait a few more months before this bill is passed by this house. If the Napthine government is unwilling to either delay the bill or amend it so that it is truly a minimalist bill dealing only with CPI, Labor will stand up for vulnerable Victorians, many of whom are without a voice, and oppose this bill.
Mrs COOTE (Southern Metropolitan) -- I say at the outset that Ms Mikakos was absolutely correct in her commentary when she said she hoped but did not expect her powers of persuasion to be able to sway the chamber, because I can assure her that the government will not be supporting her amendment.
I will come to the reasons for that in a moment. However, I would like to say at the outset that the opening statements of Ms Mikakos were absolutely scurrilous, to say the least. The ALP and the Greens do not have a monopoly on compassion. That is what they would like the community to believe. They would like the community to think that they are better than the rest. I remind the ALP of what the coalition government has done. Labor had 11 years to act, and it did absolutely nothing.
The coalition government has achieved a great deal for the benefit of people with a disability in our state, and that includes the closure of the Sandhurst Centre. Where was the ALP for 11 years when it came to that matter? Labor had 11 years and two ministers in Bendigo, but still it did not close Sandhurst. Minister Mary Wooldridge and the coalition government have done that. Who signed up to the bilateral agreement on the national disability insurance scheme? It was the coalition government. The coalition government developed the Victorian State Disability Plan 2013-2016. The coalition government put $25 million on the table for the National Disability Insurance Agency to be located in Geelong.
We have done myriad things in this area.
Ms Mikakos talked about the cost of living, and she said we have done nothing. What about the 12-month electricity concessions and the priorities? What about the $650 million in funding we provided for the education of disabled children? We put a school in Parkville. Where were those matters referred to in the information that Ms Green, the member for Yan Yean in the Assembly, gave Ms Mikakos? They were not referred to at all. Ours was the first major political party in Australia to commit to the national disability insurance scheme. I am very proud that over the subsequent years we developed this scheme in conjunction with the previous federal government, and that work is ongoing with the launch of the National Disability Insurance Agency in the electorate of Barwon.I turn to some of the figures.
Currently we invest about $1.7 billion annually in the disability sector, and by 2019 that figure will be up to $2.5 billion every year for people with disabilities. That is going to be matched by the federal government's contribution of $2.6 billion a year. These measures are hardly about privatising care for people with disabilities, as Ms Mikakos indicated. Ms Mikakos's intimations are absolutely scandalous. Labor should be totally ashamed of its record, and Ms Mikakos was unable to put anything on the table to prove that the former government did anything in this area.There is quite a substantial amount to talk about in relation to this bill, so I would like to go through some of the issues and correct some of the misinformation that Ms Mikakos introduced to the debate. The bill makes minor amendments to the Disability Act 2006 to clarify the role of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in relation to the review of a notice of proposed increase of a residential charge.
This is a small bill -- it has only six clauses -- but these minor amendments will maintain a person's right to apply for a review of a decision to increase a residential charge. The act is being amended to clarify the role of VCAT in specific circumstances when reviewing a notice of a proposed increase in a residential charge following VCAT's consideration of the matter in August. I want to reiterate that -- the bill will clarify the role of VCAT in this area.The bill will limit VCAT's powers in reviewing a resident's application regarding a notice of a proposed increase in a residential charge, and it relates only to the commonwealth rent assistance or standard cost of living increases to the disability support pension.
This will allow the department and community sector organisations to continue to make standard cost of living increases in residential charges without the potential of a review by VCAT. If in fact Ms Mikakos had spoken at length with some of the people she so readily quoted, like representatives of LISA and VALID and like Mr Brian Johnstone, who has been quoted in the other place, she would understand how stressful the VCAT process is. That was one of the very big things people said when I discussed these issues with them on many occasions. They found the process extremely stressful. What we are doing here is clarifying this position. VCAT will continue to be able to review any other increase in residential charges. Disability providers such as Scope, Yooralla and E. W. Tipping have asked for the certainty that will be provided by this legislation.
The bill allows for disability service providers to continue to implement regular fee increases related to the cost of living or commonwealth rent assistance (CRA) without the potential for review by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This is in line with the intention of the Disability Act 2006.
It is particularly interesting to look at the board and lodging issue. The Victorian government provides about half of the disability accommodation support in this state, and when this legislation is passed, a proportion of residents will be moved to a new board and lodging model. The Victorian government believes a board and lodging fee is a reasonable, transparent and fair approach to charging for rent and housekeeping in department-managed disability residential services. For residents living in department-managed disability residential services the new board and lodging fee will start in early 2014. The fee will be individually calculated and will allow residents to access commonwealth rent assistance. The fee bundles all existing charges -- rent, electricity, food and other services -- into a single and consistent residential charge.
Mr Leane interjected.Mrs COOTE -- In fact I meet with them on a very regular basis. I meet with them every couple of months, and we have in-depth 2-hour meetings. Mr Leane can go and check with them if he wishes.
If he is talking about consultation, I note that I meet with and consult with them on a regular basis. At the last meeting we described how this fee bundling will work. For example, at the moment if the fridge or the washing machine breaks down in a group home, it is unclear who should fix it. Should it be the residents themselves, or should it be the department? It is very unclear. This bill enables fees to be bundled, and it will be clear who is going to pay, who is responsible and how it is going to be managed. Tregales and the LISA advocacy group were very pleased to hear about this when it was described in detail by an excellent person within our department, Michael Mefflin. It was important that they understood these issues, and following that consultation they really did understand that issue. The only increases for residents will be adjustments for cost of living increases proportional to adjustments in the disability support pension and the inclusion of the commonwealth rent assistance payment that residents will be able to receive under this fee structure.I want to talk about commonwealth rent assistance. A member may have made a claim that the government will be taking commonwealth rent assistance money from people who are currently receiving this benefit. This is the typical Labor scaremongering and inadequacy part of the debate. It is a great pity that Ms Mikakos was briefed by Ms Green, the member for Yan Yean in the Assembly, because Ms Green got it all wrong herself. It is no wonder the information Ms Mikakos has given us is wrong. She got the entire ethos of this bill wrong.
Let me offer some facts. There are a few more than 400 houses in scope for the proposed new board and lodging fee and more than 150 residents out of the scope. None of the people in the scope for the new board and lodging fee is currently eligible for commonwealth rent assistance. The opposition would have people believe there are hundreds of people currently accessing commonwealth rent assistance and who thus will be out of pocket.
We do not have good information about how many people are currently accessing the CRA, but I asked for a related note and today I received it. Not one single person has rung or emailed the department who is accessing CRA, despite many entreaties asking people to come forward to discuss their personal circumstances. Not one! We have good information, though, suggesting that people affected by the proposed changes are not currently eligible for commonwealth rent assistance.
During the consideration-in-detail stage in the lower house, the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, Ms Wooldridge, outlined the relevant advice in the Assembly -- and I might add that though the Assembly does not have that stage of debate as often as the Council does, Minister Wooldridge did an extraordinarily good job and showed that she was extremely knowledgeable on the matter, which I think is what put Ms Green completely on the back foot. That advice the minister outlined is available in Hansard.I encourage members in this chamber to go to Hansard and to read what the minister had to say, because it sets out the facts very clearly and properly.
It is not just this government's view that people under current arrangements are not eligible for the CRA -- and this is a really important point. As acknowledged by the regulatory impact statement developed by the former government for the Disability Regulations 2007:
Residential fees for long-term accommodation and support in departmental managed CRUs are charged on a rental model basis ... This is now equivalent to 15.2 per cent of DSP. Under Centrelink criteria, these residents would not be eligible for CRA as the rent component falls below its qualifying minimum rent threshold.
Let me repeat that for the members opposite. In 2007 the Labor government said these residents would not be eligible for CRA.Mr Leane interjected.
Mrs COOTE -- That is what was said in your regulatory impact statement. You should have gone back to what the Labor government said and had a look at it. It was the Labor government that set the fees. Those opposite talk about the coalition government as being heartless, but it was the Labor government that introduced this.
Mr Leane interjected.
Mrs COOTE -- Mr Leane can try to pretend this did not happen, but it was a Labor government that set the fees at a level that does not attract commonwealth rent assistance. Let me repeat for Mr Leane that it was the Labor government that set the fees at a level that does not attract commonwealth rent assistance. The Labor government said residents should not be accessing the CRA. Where is Ms Mikakos? She is not even listening to this. She is totally ashamed of what those opposite did. Those opposite should be ashamed. They have been out their bleating in public about this all the time, and it was absolutely their fault. It was a Labor government that set the fees.
Mr Leane -- You can make it up as much as you like.Mrs COOTE -- I take up the interjection. Mr Leane says we made it up.
Would he like me to read it again? It is his government's very own regulatory impact statement. Would you like me to repeat it?We know there are some people who are accessing the CRA and who believe they are living in houses that are in scope for the new fee. The government encourages any people concerned to call the fee information line on 1800 249 729 and discuss their circumstances. It is also possible Centrelink has made a mistake in assessing people. If there are any anomalies in people's personal circumstances, this coalition government is happy to discuss those circumstances. I encourage all individuals, family members and carers listening or reading Hansard to check their personal circumstances by ringing 1800 249 729 or sending an email to the Department of Human Services website.
In the 11/2 minutes I have left I do not have time to go into detail about the amendments contained in this bill; but I will say that the basis for the Labor Party's reasoned amendment seems to be that issues regarding this bill have not been consulted on or discussed.Part of my contribution in regard to this matter is that I meet with people from the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID) and LISA on a regular basis. I regularly meet with people in the disability sector -- all the advocacy groups and many individuals -- all the time, all day, every day. I have to say that I have been inspired by these groups of people and particularly by individuals with a disability. They are quite extraordinary, and they need the praise of all of us for the work they do. I also know the minister's chief of staff has met with people from VALID, as have staff from the department, so there has been extensive consultation.
The minister has written to, spoken to or emailed hundreds of families and individuals, and discussions have been led by me, the minister's chief of staff and staff right across the department.Government members do not support the reasoned amendment. This bill will enable the details of both cost of living increases and commonwealth rent assistance to be established if the bill is passed by both houses. The government has also asked the State Services Authority to look at the broader issues, because we are heading into the implementation phase of the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS). As I have said, as a community we have committed to the implementation of the NDIS, so we need to work out and clarify the situation in terms of the provision of these services into the future.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- I have decided that the best way for me to start my contribution tonight is to read in full a press statement from the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability Inc. (VALID), dated 25 November. I attended this meeting of family members, carers and people from the sector, which was called by VALID on 11 November.
The press release is headed 'Cash Grab an Insult'. It begins:
A meeting of family members representing people residing in DHS-funded group homes has condemned the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, Mary Wooldridge, MP, for:- suggesting they have been wrongly claiming the commonwealth rental assistance (CRA);
- wrongfully claiming that no person with a disability will be financially worse off as a result of the Disability Amendment Bill currently before the Parliament;- suggesting there had been proper consultation with the sector when there ... has been none.
The press release continues:The minister has argued the bill will simply enable service providers, including DHS, to capture cost of living increases to the disability support pension (DSP), as well as 100 per cent of the commonwealth rental assistance (CRA).
Minister Wooldridge has claimed that:- group home residents are currently ineligible to receive the CRA;
- parents/administrators would only be receiving the CRA if they have been providing information improperly -- indeed, perhaps fraudulently;- the change from a rental payment to a board and lodging fees structure -- --
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- On a point of order, Acting President, the member is reading from a document which claims that Minister Wooldridge has done something fraudulently. This a reflection on someone in the other house, and I ask the member to withdraw.The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! On the point of order, I ask Ms Hartland if she did in fact say what the minister says she said.
Ms HARTLAND -- No, it is not. I am trying to find the particular place.The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Could I have the document? I am reading from the same media release -- the third paragraph down with three dot points.
Ms HARTLAND -- That is right.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! Particularly relating to the second dot point that commences 'Parents/administrators', I am going to ask the member to withdraw that.
Ms HARTLAND -- On the point of order, Acting President, the press release is saying:Minister Wooldridge has claimed that:
- parents/administrators would only be receiving -- --
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I repeat that I have asked Ms Hartland to withdraw.Ms HARTLAND -- This is a public document.
An honourable member interjected.
Ms HARTLAND -- If I may finish, members now no longer -- --
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I have asked Ms Hartland to withdraw. She cannot use the press release of a third party to attack a minister. I ask her to withdraw.Ms HARTLAND -- I withdraw.
The press release goes on to state that Ms Wooldridge has also claimed:- the change from a rental payment to a board and lodging fees structure is required in order to make people eligible for the CRA (a subsidy she intends to fully claim!).
Yet -- as the meeting at the VALID office heard today -- many group home residents have been receiving the CRA legitimately ...
The press release continues:They are consistently granted the CRA, with Centrelink's full knowledge of the residents' situation. The impact of this bill will therefore be to reduce many residents' already meagre incomes by a further 10 per cent.
The meeting referred to the recommendations of the 2007 hearing of the Intellectual Disability Review Panel, which stated: 'We have been informed that the department (DHS) disputes the clients' entitlement to this rent assistance (CRA). We believe the department should not be attempting to determine this issue according to their point of view and should be assisting the client by ... leaving the proper determination of entitlement to the body charged with that responsibility, namely Centrelink'.VALID strongly concurs with the IDRP advice. We therefore call on the government to:
- defer the bill (with the exception of the cost of living increase measures);- undertake a full and independent review of the impact of fees and charges in disability-funded services;
- ensure full and proper consultation before any change is made to the legislation.
When I attended the meeting on 11 November just about everybody expressed the view that they had not been consulted. They had already been through a process once, and they were quite shocked that the government would attempt to do this again without bothering to speak to them.
This bill will enable both government and non-government disability supported accommodation providers to apply fee increases to capture residents' income from commonwealth rent assistance as well as their cost of living increases. It will remove the ability of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to review proposed fee increases relating to the cost of living increases and commonwealth rent assistance. Residents or their administrators will retain the right to apply for a VCAT review of other fee charges.
The government is introducing a new board and lodging fee in early 2014 for the 2100 residents in government-run accommodation. The new single fee will bundle all existing charges, including rent, utilities, communications, communal furnishing, food, general household consumables and equipment. The fee does not include clothing, toiletries, personal mobile phones or internet connections, personal furniture, restaurant meals or holidays. Importantly, it does not include transport, day service activity fees and medications, which can be incredibly expensive items.
My concern is that the move to bundle the fees, combined with this bill, is the Victorian government looking after its own interests and putting them before residents.
Firstly, concerns have been raised that having a single fee may impede the potential individualised costing of services, which will be important as we transition to the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS). Secondly, the whole point of this bundling is that it will enable residents to become eligible for commonwealth rent assistance. This bill then acts to enable government and non-government providers to increase residential charges to include 100 per cent of rent assistance. The rent assistance can be used by the Victorian government or housing provider to help them meet the cost of disability housing.
The government says that people in government-supported disability group housing have not previously been able to access commonwealth rent assistance as the rent payment would not exceed the minimum threshold requirement. When rent is bundled with lodging fees they would become eligible for rent assistance, thus enabling the government to use that money for housing at no net loss to the resident.However, I and a number of community organisations believe that the minister has been incorrectly advised on this matter. Many people in government and non-government supported accommodation already claim commonwealth rent assistance. I met a number of these people on 11 November at the VALID meeting, so I am not quite sure what the government is talking about when it says that these people cannot claim commonwealth rental assistance. A number of people in that room were saying they had been claiming it and had been giving information to Centrelink. They had not been doing it fraudulently; they had been quite open about what had happened.
In response to this revelation the minister suggested they were wrongly claiming rent assistance; however, the claim is compliant with section 13(1) of the commonwealth Social Security Act 1991. Centrelink has consistently granted commonwealth rent assistance with full knowledge of the situation of residents in supported housing.
It is up to Centrelink to interpret and implement the legislation, and Centrelink has consistently found that while the rental component might be at or below the rent assistance threshold the fact that people are contributing to the provision of meals on a regular basis satisfies the definition of lodging, thus the cost of board and lodging is above the threshold and they are eligible.
For me to say that this bill is a cash grab gone bad I do not think is over the top. It will leave many people financially worse off by about 10 per cent, as they will suddenly have income ripped from their personal budget through a residential fee increase. We do not know how many people are in this situation, but from what I am told it could be hundreds. Many people in supported accommodation have high expenses just to meet their basic needs. They include day service costs, medical costs and transport costs, which are all extremely high. Often their budget is already on a knife edge anyway and they cannot afford such a sudden cut.What makes things worse is that they will have no ability to challenge this increase under VCAT unless it means that their rent will exceed 75 per cent of the disability support pension and 100 per cent of rent assistance, which is a very high threshold.
At the same time the government has announced a review of residential fees by the State Services Authority, and there has been a suggestion that it will examine issues such as charging models; the impact on residents of other disability-related costs, such as fees for day services and transport; hardship policies; and opportunities to improve processes and reduce administrative burdens. I will try to verify that this is what will be reviewed.I seriously question why the government has introduced this bill and announced changes to fees before the State Services Authority has done its review.
I do not understand why the government appears to be putting the cart before the horse and why it has completely ignored parents, carers and other sectors by not bothering to consult with them.
I would have thought that that review would be critical to informing the government whether bundling fees to make a single lodging and boarding fee is an appropriate way to go with the rollout of the national disability insurance scheme. In my mind the bill is clearly a cash grab from the commonwealth. Unfortunately there are residents who are being caught in the crossfire. This measure will earn just under $4.5 million for the Victorian government annually as it will increase residential fees for 2100 residents in government-run supported housing by about $82 per fortnight, which is the full value of the single sharing commonwealth rent assistance payment. I believe the bill is being rushed through without proper consultation with the sector and without due consideration for its potential impact. That is why I will support the ALP's reasoned amendment, and if that fails, and I presume it will, I will attempt to have the legislation sent to the Standing Committee on Legal and Social Issues for review and consultation with the sector.
The government's recent attempt to lift fees to 75 per cent of the disability support pension plus 100 per cent of the rent assistance has deeply concerned many residents. I am glad the bill does not attempt to reintroduce that at least.
While I do not believe it is the intention of the minister, I believe it is her failure to consult with residents that has meant the bill is also problematic for many residents. I do not believe the bill should go ahead at this time and in this form. Recent revelations as to its impact mean it should be reconsidered.
I do not understand why at the start of my contribution it was felt that points of order should be taken about what I was saying. This is a really important matter. This sector -- the parents, carers and residents -- have not been consulted on the matter. If -- --Mrs Coote -- That is not true.
Ms HARTLAND -- I am more than happy to re-read VALID's -- --Mrs Coote interjected.
Ms HARTLAND -- At that meeting on 11 November, Mrs Coote, with about 40 -- --Mrs Coote -- That was one meeting. I was -- --
Ms HARTLAND -- Yes, a meeting of family members representing people residing in DHS-funded group homes condemned the Minister for Disability Services and Reform -- --Mrs Coote interjected.
Ms HARTLAND -- Maybe, Mrs Coote, someone in their contribution could outline the consultation that has occurred, because as far as I can see and from what the minister's advisers said on the day of the meeting, no consultation has occurred. I understand consultation on this matter has not occurred. That is why the Greens will oppose the bill until the government gets its act into gear and consults with the sector -- the parents, the carers and the residents -- to see what effect this is going to have.
Mr DRUM (Northern Victoria) -- If anybody has a true understanding of the disability sector, they will understand that if they have a son or daughter or an individual they are caring for who is in supported accommodation or a supported residential service, then it is up to them to make sure they advocate on their behalf to get the very best for them.
However, I say to Ms Hartland and Ms Mikakos that the most vulnerable group in the state are the people who are being cared for at home and who are unable to get a place in a supported residential service. They are the people we need to have some compassion for. They are the people who have every right to the service so that we no longer have 75-year-old and 85-year-old parents looking after people who are 45 years old and 50 years old and who have no realistic chance of getting into supported accommodation. They are the people who will benefit from the legislation. We will bring Victoria into line with the other states.Ms Hartland, you have been to one meeting and all of a sudden you are an expert in the field of disability. It is a joke. This is a very serious issue; you have got that right.
Mr Jennings -- On a point of order, Acting President, Ms Hartland deserves support from the Chair in relation not only to the interjections when she was on her feet but specifically in relation to the current assault that she is receiving through a contribution that is not being directed through you. I call on you, Acting President, to exercise your influence over this matter and to make sure the contribution is directed through you.The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I thank Mr Jennings; I have his point. I do not uphold the point of order. Mr Drum to continue, and I remind him that his comments should be directed through the Chair.
Mr DRUM -- Thank you, Acting President. Every time you attack the Greens in the house, the Labor Party follows on to protect them, and vice versa.The new regulations for food, board and lodgings will bring this state into line with other states in Australia. It will also mean that the vast majority of the people who are currently not claiming commonwealth rent assistance will be able to get it. We have a situation in Victoria where many millions of dollars are going to waste because Victorians are not claiming commonwealth rent assistance, and this legislation will ensure that everybody is tipped over the threshold and therefore qualifies for that assistance. It will open up many hundreds of additional places for people who currently have no prospect of getting into a supported residential service that is best for them and their families. We want the best possible outcomes for them.
Ms Hartland might be right; there might be a few people out there. Ms Mikakos might also be right; there could be a few people who are currently receiving commonwealth rent assistance. However, the vast majority of Victorians who qualify at the moment are not receiving those funds. Those funds are not coming into this state and therefore we are not getting the money that we could get and reinvest. Ms Mikakos and Ms Hartland see this as some sort of a cash grab.
It is beyond belief that anybody could stand in this place and say the government is going to take funds from families and from individuals in residential services and somehow grow general revenue from their pensions. It is absurd. The fact that we are going to be able to offer additional services and additional residential places should make everybody with a genuine interest in this sector take a positive view of what the bill will do.
There is no comfort in the sector after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decided it has the right to rule on all of the price increases irrespective of how small they are. If a complaint is lodged against a price increase, VCAT has ruled that it will adjudicate on it. It means that Yooralla, Scope and the E. W. Tipping Foundation and some of the other main providers have had to come to the government for assistance, for security.
They need to know that if they are to continue to operate their services, and if the department is to continue to operate its services on behalf of all Victorians, then we have to get this part of the legislation right. Nobody likes charging anybody more than they have to -- --
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Ondarchie) -- Order! I ask members of the gallery not to take photographs.Mr DRUM -- I am very fond of you, Acting President, but I was not going to take your photo.
It is a small bill, but it is critical that we get this right so we can set the framework for the future to ensure that we spread the net as wide as we possibly can.I will finish up with the biggest issue in relation to the disability sector -- that is, unmet demand for care. Demand is burgeoning, and in my 11 years in this house unmet demand has been the single biggest issue. The need is there, and no government can give these people the services they need, but we are all hoping that the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) will go a large way. Most of us with an interest in this issue would have a very real fear that the NDIS, which will be an additional 0.5 per cent on the Medicare levy, will give us about half the money we are going to need. There is still a real challenge for both the commonwealth and state governments to truly give the people the care they need when they have been dealt these horrific cards where they become lifelong carers for people with disabilities.
This bill in the first instance goes very much into residential care, and it is very difficult to sit in this chamber and be criticised for bringing into place legislation that will set the framework for a better outcome for hundreds of families within Victoria each and every year and also give providers that currently are doing a mighty job the security and comfort they need so that they can keep doing that work into the future.
Mr LEANE (Eastern Metropolitan) -- Let us try to agree on a couple of things in this house. Mrs Coote says no side of the chamber has an exclusive right to compassion.
Mrs Coote -- I said you don't.Mr LEANE -- Mrs Coote is a bad winner, because I am conceding to her.
I say there is something to which we should all try and agree -- that is, no side of the chamber has exclusive rights on compassion. We will start there. Let us also agree that there is an issue with adults with disabilities who are at home with elderly parents who may not have been successful at getting a placement for their child. Let us concede how stressful that must be. Let us also concede that there are some people -- call them fortunate or not -- who abide in group government housing. There are some adults with disabilities who abide in group government housing, and the same stress falls upon their parents and carers, many of whom are quite elderly, to keep them accommodated and happy. There is the ultimate stress about what will happen to their son or daughter when they pass away. We can all try to put ourselves in their shoes, but we cannot actually do so. I know some of us have children who may be in that category, but we should try to put ourselves in their shoes and give them the utmost compassion.
Let us go back to the history of this bill. The Minister for Community Services suggested a rent hike for people with disabilities living in group housing. That rent hike was seen as too high by the people who were living in group housing and their carers, and that group of people protested. They protested that they believed that hike was too high. These are people who do not have a lot of time to organise themselves, because of the situations they are in. In the course of events they formed groups wherever they found themselves to lobby against that price hike. I am sure that at different times all of us in this chamber were approached and lobbied by those different individuals or groups arguing that the price hike should not go ahead. What ensued was some media, including a 7.30 report, and one of the parents who appeared on that report is a gentleman I know very well and to whom I have spoken about this situation.
The response from the government and particularly the minister is: we are making the system fairer and more equitable, because this is the price range in which other jurisdictions and private operators are charging. However, the people who are affected by this argue that it is not the case.
The people affected by this would want one of the government members who is going to speak on this bill to explain to which jurisdiction the rent proposed by the minister applies and on which private organisation that level of rent is based that means it is fair. Tell us if that level is across the board, as was indicated when it was proposed as a fair and equitable way to go forward for people living in this situation.
I believe the reason the price hike did not go ahead is the multiple applications to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to try and stop the rent hike for individuals. Whether those VCAT applications were put in place by the carers, parents or residents themselves, the reason the rent hike did not go ahead is because of those multiple VCAT applications. Whether or not government members want to accept it, people who were put in this situation are cynical of the process of the rent hike. They are cynical of the process and the excuse they were given for the rent hike.You should not be surprised if they are cynical about this legislation. You should not be surprised if they are cynical about the fact that this piece of legislation will not afford them the same opportunity to put multiple applications into VCAT to fight the rent hike, and therefore they will not get the same outcome they got this time. You have to forgive them for being cynical.
As I said at the start, we all accept that anyone in that situation will fight in whatever way they can and in whatever way is available to them for an assurance that their son or daughter will be able to afford to stay in the accommodation they are in and will also to be able to afford to do adult things such as go to the movies, have a smoke, have a beer or whatever else some of us might enjoy. I am not accusing anyone of not being compassionate; I am just calling on government members to understand why these people are cynical and why we support there being an inquiry into the price hike and what it will mean.
That inquiry might come up with answers that will not make everyone happy, but at least we should give people the opportunity for that inquiry to go ahead. In that case we would support Ms Mikakos's amendment. If that does not go ahead we will be opposing the bill.
Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) -- I am pleased to rise to speak this evening on this important bill, the Disability Amendment Bill 2013. I am pleased that Mr Leane has just spoken. He has put much more of a moderate tone on the debate than have other opposition members, especially Ms Mikakos, who was far from moderate, and I will come back to her contribution in a moment.The Minister for Disability Services and Reform, Minister Wooldridge, has done an enormous amount in this area since she became the responsible minister.
I think many people across the sector recognise what she has done and what she has been able to achieve in her time, understanding that she has a very compassionate approach to many issues. Similarly, Mrs Coote deals on a very regular basis with a whole range of people in circumstances that are exceptionally difficult. I think it was Mr Leane who said that everybody in this chamber has that degree of compassion and understanding of the issues to hand and that they are difficult issues. Just like the Premier, who is well known for his compassion in relation to people with a disability, many of us are well aware of the issues surrounding people who have children with a disability, especially those people who are elderly parents caring for those children at home. They are of great concern.I reiterate the comments made by Mrs Coote and Mr Drum in relation to what the government has done, noting that in this year's budget alone there has been a further $224 million put into this sector, taking total funding to $1.6 billion.
It is a significant amount and it demonstrates that the government takes these issues very seriously.
What we are talking about in relation to this bill is the board and lodging fee. As members and others who have been following this debate are aware, residents pay a residential charge that not only includes a rent component but also charges for a range of items such as food, electricity and other services. These charges vary from house to house and month to month, just as in any normal household. I think we have to take into consideration that there are cost increases in relation to household goods, and the government believes there needs to be a fairer and simpler and far more transparent way of calculating all these charges for residents to give them some certainty.
I would just like to go back to a couple of points. Ms Mikakos's contribution was -- I do not know how you would describe it -- a quite emotive rant, I suppose, in relation to this issue, and the matters she referred to on many occasions were not correct, and I will draw the members' attention to some of those issues. Ms Hartland in her contribution also made a couple of claims in relation to various areas, and one of those areas was a lack of consultation. I think Ms Mikakos said too that the government had been doing very little consultation.
During Ms Hartland's contribution there were a number of interjections from Mrs Coote, who knows only too well the amount of consultation that she has undertaken in her capacity as Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services. She meets with these people on a regular basis. She meets with groups and individuals on a regular basis and has done so for the last three years. There has been extensive consultation, so to say there has been no consultation is factually incorrect. The minister has written to, spoken to and emailed hundreds of families and individuals. There has been consultation and discussion between the minister and the disability services commissioner, who is also very much aware of the issues that we are debating here this evening. As I have said, there have been discussions led by the Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services, Mrs Coote, who has been right across the department and met with individuals and organisations on a regular basis.
To say there have not been extensive discussions with families, carers, disability advocates or service providers is completely incorrect, and I need to point that out to members so that anyone who is following this debate can understand the extent of the consultation that has been taking place.In her contribution Ms Hartland read from a media release from VALID that said, in part:
Yet -- as the meeting at the VALID office heard today -- many group home residents have been receiving the CRA legitimately (i.e. compliant with the Social Security Act). They are consistently granted the CRA, with Centrelink's full knowledge of the resident's situation. The impact of this bill will therefore be to reduce many residents' already meagre incomes by a further 10 per cent.
As Mrs Coote highlighted in her contribution, that occurred under the former government. She made the point that this was acknowledged in the regulatory impact statement which was developed by the former government for the disability regulations in 2007, so well before we came to government, which says:Residential fees for long-term accommodation and support in departmental managed CRUs are charged on a rental model basis ... This is now equivalent to 15.2 per cent of DSP.
Under Centrelink criteria, these residents would not be eligible for CRA as the rent component falls below its qualifying minimum rent threshold.
There are a number of elements here, and I will go on to Mr Leane's contribution now. He said that there are many people who are cynical.Maybe they are; but maybe it is because they have not had the information properly communicated to them or they are not aware of the information and maybe that is the reason for their cynicism, because as I have just stated, that is what happened under the former government.
Ms Hartland also made some claims about the government taking the commonwealth rent assistance (CRA). It was a 'cash grab gone bad' she said. This is typical scaremongering that Ms Hartland and Ms Mikakos have introduced into this debate, and there are a number of elements that I again want to put on the record. There are a few more than 400 houses in scope for the proposed new board and lodging fee and more than 150 residences out of scope. None of the people who are in scope for the new board and lodging fee are currently eligible for CRA. That is pretty clear and definitive, and I think it was in Mrs Coote's contribution that she said that if anybody has any concerns in relation to their entitlements or their issues, they have an information line that they can access.
The government is fully open and transparent in relation to trying to work through these issues with residents and others who have concerns.
A number of organisations want that certainty. Many stakeholders and providers of disability supported accommodation have contacted the government to express their concerns about their ability to provide services if they cannot keep up with issues like cost of living pressures. Ongoing Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) reviews of every incremental fee increase would be truly unsustainable. It would be a costly exercise, it would be cumbersome to the sector and that is not what the government wants. We want providers to have certainty and be able to provide services. It is worth noting that the CEO of Scope, Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald, wrote:
Over the past five years, board and lodging fees have been indexed at CPI rates ...
I am concerned that the process of fixing fees will become untenable in a situation where VCAT has the capacity to assess, on an individual basis, any future increases to residential charges ... Scope seeks certainty regarding the organisation's ability to establish a fee structure that is both fair and sustainable.
I would like to correct Mr Leane in relation to how the proposed fees compare with those in other jurisdictions. He said there was no comparison to other jurisdictions. In South Australia the residential service rate is around 78.6 per cent to 81.2 per cent, or 75 per cent of the disability support pension (DSP), 100 per cent of commonwealth rent assistance (CRA) and 100 per cent of mobility allowance if received. In the Northern Territory the rate is 80 per cent of the combined DSP and CRA; however, this jurisdiction has low residential service numbers. In New South Wales the rate is 75 per cent to 78.1 per cent, or 75 per cent of DSP, 75 per cent of CRA and 100 per cent of mobility allowance. In Western Australia the rate is 75 per cent, or 75 per cent of the combined DSP and CRA. It is evident that there are similar models across a number of jurisdictions, as I have just highlighted. If the calculations are performed for Victoria, the result will be below the fees in other jurisdictions.
In conclusion, I commend the minister for the work she has done in this area.She has done a tremendous job. She worked hard with the federal government in relation to the national disability insurance scheme. The minister and her parliamentary secretary have done an extraordinary job in looking at the sector in great detail, taking great care and showing great compassion for those who are involved in it. Finally, I commend the bill to the house.
Mr EIDEH (Western Metropolitan) -- I rise to speak briefly on the Disability Amendment Bill 2013. I say at the outset that we on this side of the house will oppose the bill unless our proposed amendments are adopted. We on this side of the house share a firm belief that those living with a disability should live with dignity in safe and hospitable accommodation, with care available to them to ensure that they have access to all the services they require. There has never been a government that believed in this more than the previous federal Labor government, which made Australian history when it proudly introduced what is now called the national disability insurance scheme.
That policy sought to change forever the lives of those living with a disability and their families.
However, I am afraid that the same cannot be said about this bill, as this is merely just another cash grab by this government. The bill seeks to increase the accommodation charges from between 48 per cent and 57 per cent of the disability support pension to 75 per cent of the disability support pension and 100 per cent of commonwealth rent assistance. This will result in a staggering revenue-raising scheme of $44 million over four years for the Department of Treasury and Finance. These funds will be collected from 2500 of the most vulnerable people in our state. This bill will not only affect those living with a disability but also have significant flow-on effects for the loved ones of people living with a disability, who struggle on a daily basis to support and care for their young or adult children, parents, siblings or other family members.I do not think government members have given this bill any thought whatsoever, because if they had they would recognise that it is simply inhumane. Has the minister spared a thought for these people, who need to pay for their medical treatments and everyday living expenses? With the rapidly rising cost of living, how can these disadvantaged people expect to live comfortably and have access to everything they need if this bill is passed as it currently stands? It is obvious that they cannot and that this bill has heartlessly been designed as an initiative to balance the books for the 2013-14 period.
That is why we on this side of the house believe that this bill needs much more consideration and perhaps consultation with those living with a disability so that members of the government can fully understand the impact that this bill will have on the livelihoods of those living with a disability. We oppose the bill.
Mr FINN (Western Metropolitan) -- I rise to speak in support of this bill with a great deal of enthusiasm -- --
Mrs Coote -- And knowledge.Mr FINN -- I hasten to add, although modesty might forbid me, perhaps with a degree of knowledge as well, because this has been an area of interest for me for some years, going back to the days of the closure of Caloola.
Mrs Coote -- 21 years.
Mr FINN -- Yes, it was 21 years ago. Caloola was closed shortly before I was elected as member for Tullamarine in the Legislative Assembly. I can recall only too well the great concern that many people had about the accommodation needs of the people who had previously been in Caloola.
The government of that time -- the Kirner Labor government -- was just not up to the job of providing the sort of accommodation these people needed. It was something that distressed me a great deal at the time. I look back on it with a great deal of regret and sadness because it caused much distress, particularly to older parents who were very concerned about their children and what would happen to those children when their parents went to their eternal reward.I now find myself in a situation where I feel the same way. I look at my son now, and he is pretty happy and healthy -- a growing 12-year-old -- but at some stage I am not going to be around, and I wonder what will become of him when I am no longer around to keep an eye on him.
I wonder what will happen to those around him when I am no longer around. These are issues that play on the minds of carers every day of their lives. It is legislation such as this that gives certainty and a sense of knowing what is ahead for people who are caught in this particular situation.I found some of the comments made tonight by members of the Labor Party in this chamber to be exceedingly offensive. I found them personally offensive, but they were offensive, full stop. If we really want to see how governments treat people with a disability, we just have to look at how the Labor Party, over a long period, treated children with autism who lived in the western suburbs. They would not allow children in the western suburbs to have a proper education. They would only allow them four years of education. It was only this government that put in place a P-12 school for children with autism, which will open early next year. It is something I am particularly excited about.
At long last these children will get a proper and thorough education, but Labor was not the party that gave it to them. In fact for many years Labor blocked that education for these children.When I see and hear Labor members getting up and beating their chests about the wonderful things they do for people with a disability and people who are hard up, I have to wonder that if they are so genuinely concerned about these people, why do they scare them witless with these ongoing scare campaigns? I do not just blame members today; this is something in the Labor Party's DNA, something the Labor Party excels at. It attempts to put the fear of God into people who should not be subject to that sort of fear. People with a disability and their families have enough to deal with without the Labor Party scaring them silly about something that 9 times out of 10 does not exist.
The worst thing that could happen for people with disabilities and for their families is to allow the system to collapse. This bill is about providing sustainability for the system, providing the necessary dollars to allow that system to continue. There is no such thing as free accommodation, no such thing as free food and no such thing as free care. This bill is about ensuring that the system we have in this state is sustained to the point where those people are properly cared for.Unfortunately I cannot go on any longer because I understand we have to get through a very tough program this evening and beyond. I compliment one person in particular for her work in this area, and that is Mrs Coote. I share an office with her -- Mrs Coote has the office, I have the cupboard -- and I know she cares very genuinely about people with a disability. The amount of time she spends searching for answers, implementing those answers and working for the good of people with disabilities and their families is quite extraordinary.
I compliment her on her work and efforts and for the enthusiasm that she displays so often for the task.
I support this bill. I urge members opposite to put aside their scare campaign and chest beating, their know-it-all speeches and the carry-on they are renowned for. I urge them to join us on this side of this house in supporting this bill.
Ms DARVENIZA (Northern Victoria) -- I am pleased to rise and make a contribution to the debate on the Disability Amendment Bill 2013. Along with other opposition members, I am opposing the bill, and I will be speaking in support of the reasoned amendment put forward by Ms Mikakos. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak after Mr Finn because Mr Finn is one of the people in this chamber who truly understands disability services and the need for a high-quality standard of care for people with disabilities in Victoria.
I know he is very passionate about it, and it is something for which he has personally been a crusader and fighter in this state.
By the same token I also think that Mr Finn talks down Labor's contribution to disability services. He knows very well that it is in Labor's DNA to do the right thing by disabled Victorians. You need only look at the changes that previous Labor governments have made to disability services in this state to understand that. Mr Finn mentioned Caloola Training Centre, a large training centre that was around for decades. This institution was established at a time when there was no distinction made between a mental illness and an intellectual disability. In fact if you were admitted to an institution like Caloola, there was very little chance, regardless of why you were admitted or what the nature of your illness or disability was, that you would ever be discharged from that institution. I think it was sometime in the 1960s that they determined that there was a distinction between a mental illness and a disability.
Mrs Coote interjected.
Ms DARVENIZA -- I thank Mrs Coote. They unilaterally went through Caloola and made a determination about who was mentally ill and who was intellectually disabled based on I am not sure what, because they were dealing with individuals who were very institutionalised and it would have been almost impossible to determine what their illness or disability was, particularly in the case of an intellectual disability; it would have been very hard.
Nevertheless the powers that be at the department at the time went through and made that distinction and determined that one part of the institution would be for the mentally ill and the other part would be for the intellectually disabled. That was true of many institutions right throughout this state and in other states as well.
It was a Labor government that brought in the 10-year plan for intellectual disability services; it was a Labor government that made the determination and had the strength of will to put the money in to close down institutions like Caloola and move clients back into the community and into community residential units (CRUs). It was a Labor government that had that vision; it was a Labor government that had that vision for Willsmere, which was an institution for aged care as well as people with intellectual disabilities. It was a Labor government that did that.So I say to Mr Finn and to others on the government side that it is in Labor's DNA to care for the intellectually disabled in this state, it is in Labor's DNA to actually take up the challenge and it is in Labor's DNA not to just spout rhetoric but to put money where it counts and make the changes that need to be made.
Not only was this about a huge shift from institutional care to care in the community, it was also about training. It was a Labor government that recognised that there needed to be training for people in intellectual disability services; that was a Labor government. It was a Labor government that determined that there needed to be a standardisation of the quality of care across intellectual disability services, whether it be in government-run CRUs or whether it be in those run by non-government agencies and churches, of which there were many. It was a Labor government that did that, and it was subsequent Labor governments that built on that work.
I have to say that, like Mr Finn, I too feel the pressure of time on me. My colleagues have gone into considerable detail on the bill. We support the dignity not only of intellectually disabled people but of disabled people, particular those who are living in the community.
The problem with this bill is that the government has put the cart before the horse. We do not need this legislation now; we do not need this bill now. We need to undertake proper consultation with stakeholders, including people who have disabilities, their carers and the organisations that provide their care. There needs to be extensive consultation, because this just looks like a money grab from some of the most vulnerable people in our community. I believe there needs to be consultation with the community and with stakeholders. Only then should we come back and look at this legislation.House divided on amendment:
Pairs Viney, Mr Ramsay, Mr
Amendment negatived. House divided on motion:
Dalla-Riva, Mr (Teller) Lovell, Ms
Motion agreed to.Read second time.
Referral to committee
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- By leave, I move:
That the Disability Amendment Bill 2013 be referred to the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee for inquiry, consideration and report by 25 March 2014, and in particular that the committee is required to consult with the disability sector and all affected residents in government and non-government supported housing and give consideration to the financial and social impacts of the proposed residential fee changes, including the proposed board and lodging fee and allowance of increased residential fees to capture commonwealth rent assistance payments.
We need to establish how many people will be affected, what the impact will be and what can be done to protect the budget of those residents.This bill and the associated changes to the fee structure need to be considered after the results of the State Services Authority review is complete, not before. My reasons for moving this motion are very straightforward. I am hoping the chamber will support it, because I think we need to be using the committees for exactly this kind of process. It is what they were set up for. I hope the government will support this motion as a sign that it wants to be transparent on this issue.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I rise to support Ms Hartland's motion.
As I indicated to the house in my contribution to the second-reading debate, the Labor opposition takes the view that the debate on the bill should have been delayed until the State Services Authority has concluded its review, which I understand will be at the end of March. We do not see that there should be any great haste in passing this bill now; the bill and this whole process would certainly derive benefit from the bill going to the upper house Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee. We are happy to support the motion moved by Ms Hartland.
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The government will not be supporting Ms Hartland's motion to refer this bill to the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee because extensive consultation has already been undertaken. The minister has written to, spoken to or emailed hundreds of families and individuals. There has been consultation and discussion between the minister and the disability services commissioner.There have been discussions led by the Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Community Services, Mrs Andrea Coote, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in this house, the minister's chief of staff and her staff, and right across the department there has been extensive consultation. There has also been extensive discussion with families, carers, disability service providers, public advocates and organisations both in the development of this process and as things have adjusted over time. The government will not be supporting the reference to the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee, because this bill has already been consulted on extensively.
House divided on motion:Ayes, 17
Barber, Mr Melhem, Mr
Broad, Ms Mikakos, Ms
Darveniza, Ms Pennicuik, Ms
Eideh, Mr (Teller) Pulford, Ms (Teller)
Elasmar, Mr Scheffer, Mr
Hartland, Ms Somyurek, Mr
Jennings, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Leane, Mr Tee, Mr
Davis, Mr P. O'Brien, Mr (Teller)
Pairs Viney, Mr Ondarchie, Mr
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I seek leave to have Mrs Coote join me at the table.Leave granted.
Clause 1Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- With the agreement of the minister, I would like to put all my questions on clause 1, just to make things easier. I understand that Ms Hartland is also agreeable to putting her questions on clause 1. We could do it two ways: one would be for us to put our questions on clause 1, and the other would be for us to put them after each clause is called on. Is the minister agreeable to taking all our questions on clause 1?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- Yes.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Terrific. It worked well on another bill we took into committee. Clause 1, which is the purposes clause, specifically refers to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) reviews. I ask: in regard to compliance with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, what legal advice has the government received about limiting the access of people with a disability to VCAT?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The government has tabled a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I understand there is a statement of compatibility with the charter, but essentially my question is about the advice the government received in relation to compliance. Presumably the department obtained legal advice in preparing that statement of compatibility.
What was the legal advice the department received about limiting the access to VCAT of people with a disability?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The legal advice was prepared by the Victorian Government Solicitor's Office.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Can the minister advise whether the provisions in the bill, other than restricting the right to seek a review by VCAT, also prohibit an administrative review or in fact a legal appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria or any other court?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- VCAT will maintain the powers it currently has in relation to the proposed increases in a residential charge that do not relate to the commonwealth rent assistance (CRA) allowance or regular cost of living fee increases to the disability support pension.
The bill will amend the provisions in relation to VCAT's power to review a notice of a proposed increase in a residential charge to make explicit that VCAT will not be able to make an order where a proposed increase in a residential charge only reflects an amount that is equivalent to the commonwealth rent assistance allowance and/or the cost of living increase of the disability support pension and does not exceed the prescribed amount in the regulations. VCAT must dismiss an application related to a proposed increase in a residential charge that falls into one of the above categories.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Will the review the State Services Authority is going to undertake look at issues such as the unit price used to subsidise Department of Human Services (DHS) accommodation in addition to issues around the disparities in charges that are currently applicable?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- In the short term there is a need for more transparency in the fee structure and in the CRA entitlement in relation to department-managed services, which will allow for more substantial residential services. The current fee structures vary considerably across and within department-managed residential services. There is a need to create greater consistency and transparency regarding residential fees for department-managed services. In the longer term the independent review of residential charges in residential services provided by disability services providers will provide comprehensive advice to the department to inform the development of the future fee structures.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Could the minister confirm, just to have it on the record, when the State Services Authority will conclude its review and provide its report to the government?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The review will be completed by August 2014.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I should have said at the outset that I do not propose to cover issues that were addressed in the consideration-in-detail stage in the Legislative Assembly. It was a positive thing that the bill was allowed to go through that process in the other place, because it enabled us to elicit some clarity around the operation of the bill, and that is going to make the minister's job a little bit easier. I have a number of further questions, and I know Ms Hartland has questions as well. In relation to the proceedings that went to VCAT, which were the impetus for this bill, can the minister indicate how much money the government spent on defending that particular VCAT proceeding in which it was unsuccessful in its very early stages?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- That question was asked in the lower house, and it was deemed out of order, but we are happy to take that on notice.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- The rules of this house are different to those of the Legislative Assembly, but I appreciate the fact that the minister is going to take the question on notice. In a similar vein, I ask: did the government consider appealing the VCAT ruling to the Supreme Court at the time that it was unsuccessful?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The government considered all its options.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Coming to the provisions in the bill that actually impose the rent increases, can DHS, as an accommodation provider, increase rents without recourse to this bill? Independent of the provisions of this bill, can DHS increase these fees?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The maximum fees are set by the regulations. DHS could move to have a fee increase, but it would have to be in accordance with the regulations.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- In a similar vein, can not-for-profit accommodation providers increase rents without recourse to the provisions of this bill?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- Yes.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Can you advise how many VCAT claims it is envisaged would occur in DHS-run accommodation in the absence of the provisions of this bill?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- That is asking me to speculate on something, and I cannot speculate on what may occur.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Presumably when the government took advice as it considered all options and decided to proceed with this bill, it would have received some advice as to what the potential exposure was on the part of the department were the bill not to proceed. There would have been some advice to the department about the potential number of VCAT claims that could occur were the bill not to go ahead. What was the advice in relation to what the potential exposure would be and how many potential claims at VCAT there could be?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I am advised the department does not discuss its legal advice.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- That is just a refusal to respond, but that is fine; I will move on.In relation to private providers, I understand that Ms Wooldridge, the Minister for Disability Services and Reform, had said zero claims had been made at VCAT in relation to DHS-run accommodation over the past three years. Can the minister advise whether that is the case also for private providers over the past three years?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- Yes.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Given that in the second-reading speech the claim was made that this bill was about giving certainty to the private providers in terms of their potential exposure, again the department would have had some relevant advice. What was the advice given in relation to the potential number of VCAT claims that could be made against private providers if this bill were not passed?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- As I said before, I cannot speculate and the department does not discuss its legal advice.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Just coming back to the issue of the State Services Authority review, I note that the minister said it was going to be concluded by August next year at the latest. Did the government ever consider delaying passage of this legislation until the conclusion of that review, and if not, why not?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The review will be undertaken by the State Services Authority as the most appropriate, independent and cost-effective organisation to undertake this work. The potential transition of the State Services Authority to new -- --
I am sorry, what was the question again?Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- Just to help the minister, the question related to the State Services Authority review, which she said would conclude in August next year. Did the government consider delaying the introduction of this bill until the conclusion of the review, and if not, why not?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The reason the government did not wait until the State Services Authority review had been completed is that in the short term there is a need for a more transparent fee structure and commonwealth rent assistance (CRA) entitlement in department-managed services, which will allow for more sustainable residential services. Current fee structures vary considerably across and within department-managed residential services. There is a need to create greater consistency and transparency regarding residential fees for department-managed services. In the longer term the independent review of residential charges in the residential services provided by disability service providers will provide comprehensive advice to the department to inform the development of future fee structures.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I want to come now to this issue of the commonwealth rent assistance.Essentially Minister Wooldridge has accused residents in DHS accommodation of getting the commonwealth rent assistance by committing fraud, so I ask the minister whether she stands by that assertion -- that those people with a disability receiving the -- --
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- I am offended.Ms MIKAKOS -- The minister needs to go and look at what the minister has said in relation to these issues. I ask the minister whether it is the view of the government that those people in receipt of commonwealth rent assistance at the moment who are in DHS accommodation are incorrectly receiving that allowance?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I am absolutely offended by this question. The minister has never made that assertion -- that anybody is wrongly claiming any allowance at all.
She has been very understanding of the sector, she has been very understanding of the people who are residents in these residential services, she has consulted widely and she has never asserted that anyone is doing anything wrong.
This is typical scaremongering by the opposition. Let me give the member some facts. There are a few more than 400 houses in scope for the proposed new board and lodging fee and more than 150 residences that are out of scope. None of the people who are in scope for the new board and lodging fee are currently eligible for CRA.We know there are some people who are accessing CRA and believe they are living in houses that are in scope for the new fee. The government encourages any people concerned to call the free information line on 1800 249 729 and discuss their circumstances. It is likely that such people are living in houses that will not be affected by the new fee structure.
It is also possible that Centrelink has made a mistake in assessing people. If there are any anomalies in people's personal circumstances, the government is happy to discuss those circumstances. I encourage all individuals, families and carers listening or reading Hansard to check their personal circumstances by ringing 1800 249 729. They can also send email through the DHS website. I encourage Ms Mikakos to help people get the facts rather than scaremongering vulnerable Victorians.Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I thank the minister very much for that, but I refer her to Minister Wooldridge's summing up of the second-reading debate in the Legislative Assembly. I directly quote from her.
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- You can't quote from Hansard.
Ms MIKAKOS -- I am wishing to respond to the minister's claimed outrage about my comment. I will not quote it directly if I am not permitted to, but in her summing up of the debate Minister Wooldridge said that she understood that some individuals were claiming the commonwealth rent assistance, and she went on to say that she did not know the basis on which they were claiming it, saying the advice the government had received was that residents were not eligible. Essentially the minister was saying -- --
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar) -- Order! According to standing order 12.18, members cannot quote from Hansard but can refer to it.
Ms Mikakos is starting to quote Hansard; I would like her to return to referring to it.
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- No, I did not say that. Don't verbal me.The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr Elasmar) -- Order!
Ms MIKAKOS -- I am going to give the minister and the government an opportunity to clear this up. I referred earlier to the letter that the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID) sent to the minister last week, in which it was very concerned about this particular issue. It has been very apparent that a number of individuals are in receipt of the commonwealth rent assistance, and they are the ones who are going to be significantly impacted by this bill. Perhaps before I move on the minister can clarify the government's position. Do government members believe that people are incorrectly claiming the commonwealth rent assistance -- yes or no?Hon. W. A. Lovell -- Sorry. What did you say?
Ms MIKAKOS -- I am asking the minister to clarify the government's position as to whether or not people are incorrectly claiming the commonwealth rent assistance.Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I do not appreciate the opposition member verballing me or verballing the minister. No-one has said that anyone is knowingly incorrectly claiming commonwealth rent assistance. We have said that we believe some people may be getting it and may or may not be in the scope of this bill. It is possible that Centrelink has made some errors. But I remind the member of the Labor Party of her own government's regulatory impact statement that was developed for the disability regulations in 2007. It says:
Residential fees for long-term accommodation and support in departmental managed CRUs are charged on a rental model basis ... This is now equivalent to 15.2 per cent of DSP.Under Centrelink criteria, these residents would not be eligible for CRA as the rent component falls below its qualifying minimum rent threshold.
That is Ms Mikakos's own government's regulatory impact statement, which says that people in these accommodation facilities are not entitled to commonwealth rent assistance because the residential fees fall below the threshold to access rent assistance.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- In relation to that -- because I know Mrs Coote made a similar claim earlier in her contribution to the debate -- I refer to the fact that opposition members have also had discussions with Centrelink. It may well be that DHS has got it wrong rather than Centrelink, because, as I understand it, there is a rule that is referred to as the two-thirds rule in terms of how DHS assesses this. A recipient who pays an amount for board and lodging is asked if they have an identifiable amount that is paid for lodging, and the recipient estimates or makes a statement of the amount paid for lodging, and that statement is generally accepted.If the recipient is unable to identify the amount paid for lodging, then the two-thirds rule applies. The two-thirds rule means that, if an income support recipient pays for board and lodging and the amount paid or payable for lodging cannot be identified, two-thirds of the total amount is considered to be for rent, and therefore not the 15 per cent the minister claimed. Two-thirds of the total amount paid to DHS would be deemed to be the relevant amount in terms of working out eligibility for the commonwealth rental assistance.
For example, if a DHS resident pays around $12 000 of their DSP, and the lodgings component is not easily identifiable, their lodgings component would then be assessed at $8000 rather than the $2800 the minister is claiming in her calculations, so they would be eligible for the commonwealth rent assistance, and it may well be that because of this two-thirds rule a number of people are correctly in receipt of the commonwealth rent assistance.
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I note that in asking her question the member quoted an example of someone who is already on board and lodging fees. The change provided for in this bill is for people to move from residential fees to board and lodging fees. There are some people who are already on board and lodging fees who would not fall within the scope of this bill. There are people in scope and people who are out of scope.
The information I have been given by the department is that commonwealth rent assistance will not be payable to these customers. Some $231.17 multiplied by 12 and divided by 26 equates to a rent liability of $106.69 per fortnight. For commonwealth rent assistance to be payable, a single customer without children must have a rent liability of more than $110 per fortnight. This threshold applies from 20 September 2013 to 19 March 2014. The threshold is a higher amount for couples and for those customers with children.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- The minister has confirmed that if residents are receiving a board and lodging fee, they are properly eligible for commonwealth rent assistance.Moving on to the issue of the provisions in the bill, which again relates to the purposes clause, clause 1, is it the intention of the government to use this bill to take 100 per cent of commonwealth rental assistance?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- Commonwealth rent assistance is paid by the commonwealth to assist in the payment of rent, and yes, it would be 100 per cent of commonwealth rent assistance.Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- Ms Mikakos has asked a number of questions that I intended to ask. I will not repeat those, but I would like to inquire about a few other issues.
I have concerns regarding the introduction of the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS). The government's proposed changes to reduce the ability for residential fees to be individualised to residents seem to me to be contrary to NDIS design. How will the government reconcile this, particularly in light of the fact that all of this is happening before the State Services Authority (SSA) has finished its review?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I am advised that the NDIS will provide individual packages. It needs a standard base to work from, so the SSA review will cover off on the future fee structures.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- Considering the SSA review will not be finished until August 2014, if the review finds that board and lodging fees are too inflexible or are not tailored to individuals in transition to NDIS, how will the government manage this? Will it be able to reverse those changes?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I am advised that the NDIS will not pay different subsidies for the same services. Currently this is inconsistent -- people do pay different amounts for the same services. The NDIS will be implemented between 2016 and 2020, so the review by the State Services Authority, which will be handed down in 2014, will inform the fee structure under the NDIS.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- My next group of questions concerns consultation. I have no doubt that Mrs Coote and Ms Wooldridge often meet with different organisations and talk to them about a range of issues. I specifically want to ask about the consultation that occurred for this process. What I would like to understand is: were there formal meetings with different organisations, with carers or with parents? How were people informed of those meetings? How many people attended those meetings? What was the process of that consultation?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- This will be quite an extensive answer. The government has listened to the significant concerns that people raised about the previous proposed residential charge. These concerns were listened to and addressed through a new board and lodging fee. Since the announcement of the new fee structure the department has received approximately 50 calls and emails on the free information phone and email lines. To date only two people have called the information line to discuss with the department the fact that they are only receiving a small amount of the commonwealth rent assistance.
In relation to the consultation that has occurred since May 2013, stakeholders such as residents, financial administrators, families and carers received written notification in accessible formats. An issues log was maintained and used to inform production of question and answer bulletins and fact sheets.
There were 17 broad areas of inquiry identified including, for example, financial hardship and service inclusion and administration process inquiries. Issues were raised by a total of 117 people, 37 of whom were administrators or family members and 80 of whom were staff. A budget planning tool was also provided to assist residents and administrators.
Other responses included responding to phone and email inquiries. As I have said already, there were 15 telephone calls. There were 18 items of correspondence via letter or email. Several meetings were held between family members, the minister's office and departmental staff. Notification of the board and lodging fee prior to the announcement was provided to VALID. There were phone and email communications as well, and approximately five meetings were held between VALID and the minister's office or departmental representatives, including attendance at two public forums.
The disability services commissioner was also consulted. He was sent notification of the board and lodging fee prior to the announcement. There were approximately five meetings held between the commissioner's office and the minister's office or departmental representatives, and there were phone and email communications as required with the Office of the Public Advocate and its Community Visitors Program. There was notification of the board and lodging fees sent prior to the announcement; there was phone and email communication as required, and a meeting was held to discuss the impact of the first model with community service organisations and disability support providers.
The consultation was through National Disability Services, Victoria.If Ms Hartland would like the dates of the meetings with VALID, I can tell her that a departmental representative met with VALID on 16 May and 5 June. Departmental representatives held a public forum that VALID representatives attended on 6 June. Departmental representatives also met with them on 24 September. Departmental representatives and representatives from the minister's office attended a public forum which VALID attended on 11 November. Departmental representatives met with the disability services commissioner on 30 May, 13 June, 1 July and 26 August, and Minister Wooldridge met with them personally on 27 August. The Office of the Public Advocate had a meeting with departmental representatives on 19 June and National Disability Services, Victoria met with a departmental representative on 7 November.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- In relation to consultation on this bill I ask the minister: on what date did the bill become a public document?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- On the day that it was second read in the lower house.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- That was about three or four weeks ago, so most of those meetings happened before the bill was second read in the lower house, unless a draft had gone out to those communities. I am not sure whether all of those meetings were about this bill. I am asking about consultation on this bill. What was the process of consultation for this bill, considering it was second read roughly four weeks ago? I attended a meeting with VALID and a number of organisations on 11 November. The people there told me there had been no consultation on this bill, so I am trying to sort out in my mind whether a letter was sent and whether there was an invitation to a meeting.
What was the process for consultation on this bill that was second read four weeks ago?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- During the period between the first proposed increase in fees and the development of this bill there was extensive consultation. When a bill is being developed the consultation is different to the type of briefing that you would receive once a bill becomes public. The consultation is with people in the sector around what they would like to see in the bill and what they would find acceptable. This bill is the result of the consultation that was held between the first proposed increase in fees and this bill coming into the Parliament. There were some dates in November that I read out earlier, so those meetings may have taken place after the bill was second read in the lower houseMs HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- Going back to the meeting I attended on 11 November, there were about 40 people in the room. People were indicating in that meeting that they had not been consulted, they did not understand where it was coming from and they wanted to talk to the government about it, so why is it that I am getting a picture from carers and people in the sector that there has been no consultation when the government is insisting that there has been consultation?
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The minister's office believes it has consulted with the group that Ms Hartland may be referring to. When people do not like the outcome, even when they have been consulted, sometimes it is easier just to say they were not consulted or they were not taken notice of. I do not know which group Ms Hartland is referring to so I do not know if it is the same one we are thinking of, and I am not casting aspersions on any particular group.
There are a number of groups that strongly support what is happening in the bill. James O'Brien from National Disability Services wrote:
The prospect of having VCAT individually determine charges ... would pose significant difficulty ... The CEO of Scope, Dr Jennifer Fitzgerald, wrote:Over the past five years, board and lodging fees have been indexed at CPI rates ...
I am concerned that the process of fixing fees will become untenable in a situation where VCAT has the capacity to assess, on an individual basis, any future increases to residential charges ... Scope seeks certainty regarding the organisation's ability to establish a fee structure that is both fair and sustainable.
The CEO of Yooralla, Sanjib Roy, wrote:
Yooralla is concerned that this process could become unnecessarily complex if VCAT has the capacity to assess how any future increases to residential charges are applied ...there does need to be some clarification of the intent of the act in relation to how residential charges are applied.
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- I reiterate that the government has met with a wide variety of people on the bill, including VALID. Department representatives and representatives from the minister's office were also at the public forum on 11 November.Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- I asked a very specific question: has the government organised a public meeting inviting -- --
Hon. W. A. Lovell -- No.Ms HARTLAND -- No? There has not been a public meeting that would be part of a consultation. Clearly there has been no public meeting; that is the minister's answer.
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The minister's office has not organised a public meeting. It would be very rare for a public meeting to be held about a bill. The minister's office has consulted extensively, including with VALID and a range of other stakeholders, including peak organisations. I have just read out several endorsements of the process that is happening with this bill. That appears to be a lot of support for the bill and very little opposition.Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- My questions are particularly about consultation, not about endorsements. I will leave it there, but the impression I now have quite clearly is that there has not been a very good consultation process. I will accept what I heard at the meeting on 11 November -- that is, that the government has not organised a proper consultation process on this issue.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I thank Ms Hartland for all the very good questions around consultation. I want to ask about the formulas. We will be coming to clause 4 in a minute, but I want to ask about the issue of the prescribed amounts set out in the formulas. Can the minister advise the house what the prescribed amounts are and whether there are any plans to review the upper limits of those prescribed amounts?Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The prescribed amounts as set out in the regulations in 2007 by the Labor government are 75 per cent of the disability support pension and 100 per cent of the commonwealth rent assistance. There are no plans to review them.
Clause agreed to; clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Ms MIKAKOS (Northern Metropolitan) -- I move:1. Clause 4, page 3, lines 3 to 32 and page 4, lines 1 to 6, omit all words and expressions on these lines.
2. Clause 4, page 4, lines 19 to 29 and page 5, lines 1 to 31, omit all words and expressions on these lines.Clause 4 is the critical clause that sets out the three formulas that apply in terms of whether the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is able to entertain an application under section 71 of the Disability Act 2006. There are three formulas. The first applies where the residential charge was based on the disability support pension only, and the proposed charge is a charge based on the commonwealth rent assistance and the disability support pension.
The second formula applies where the residential charge is based on both the commonwealth rent assistance and the disability support pension, and the proposed charge will also be based on both. The third formula applies in all other cases.Having examined how these formulas work and looked at typical scenarios, we are very concerned about the potential application of the first and second formulas.
The first allows for increases in excess of $3200 plus CPI. For example, the Department of Human Services charges $10 000 set against the disability support pension in the absence of any uplifting of the pension. This could increase rents by $3224 with the resident not being able to access VCAT, a potential increase of 32.24 per cent in this particular instance. The second formula allows increases of CPI plus any balance of the commonwealth rent assistance not currently charged. In a hypothetical example of a provider charging $11 612, $10 000 against their disability support pension and 50 per cent of the commonwealth rent assistance of $1612, in the absence again of any CPI uplift of the pension this could result in an extra $1612, or 13.8 per cent, without any recourse to VCAT.
We are very concerned about these formulas. The first amendment would delete the first two formulas, (a) and (b), as set out in clause 4.The second amendment would delete a substantial part of clause 4(4), particularly as it relates to consequential amendments to delete a whole lot of definitions in that clause. That would leave the third formula, which would enable cost of living increases to occur. As we said during the second-reading debate, we do not have a difficulty with cost of living increases so long as that is what they are -- that is, CPI increases -- and they are limited in nature as set out in the third formula. I urge members to support the amendments.
Hon. W. A. LOVELL (Minister for Housing) -- The government will not be supporting the amendments. The effect would be to remove the capacity of residents in disability supported accommodation to access commonwealth rent assistance and provide that to the service provider without the protection that is being provided within this bill that such matters are not able to be considered by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In fact the only action the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal can take is to dismiss that application within the confines of the formula in this bill.
The government does not wish to exclude commonwealth rent assistance from this bill. The government believes that including CRA is the appropriate thing to do, as did the former Labor government when it set out the regulations in 2007. As explained previously here and in the Legislative Assembly consideration-in-detail stage, CRA is an allowance provided by the commonwealth to assist with rent.The formulas in this bill are quite simple. A lot of work went into developing the formulas and trying to ensure that they are as simple as possible. The purpose of the formulas is to allow VCAT to determine whether an increase in a residential charge is under the threshold that means an application for review must be dismissed.
This threshold amount needs to reference the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act 1991, and given the formulas will be used to potentially dismiss an application, it is important that they accurately cover all situations.Within that context the formulas are as straightforward as they can be. The Department of Human Services will work with the community sector organisations during implementation to understand the application of the formulas. The department will also be revising the relevant guidelines to provide additional information to these organisations. The department will provide information to residents and their administrators and families about how the formulas will work. Residents of department-managed group homes will have their revised residential charge based on a board and lodging fee individually calculated. Residents and their administrators will be advised as to whether their revised residential charge is within the threshold where VCAT must dismiss an application for review.
The department has established a board and lodging inquiry line to provide additional advice to residents and community sector organisations if required.The formulas are required so that VCAT can accurately determine the threshold under which it must dismiss an application, and disability support providers use three different methods of setting a residential charge. It is not an increase based on the consumer price index. That is why it is referred to as a cost of living increase. The three different methods are, firstly, a flat fee; secondly, as a percentage of the commonwealth disability support pension' or thirdly, as a percentage of the commonwealth disability support pension and commonwealth rent assistance. The bill contains three formulas to reflect the three different methods of setting a residential charge.
The formulas allow for a proportional increase in a residential charge related to the cost of living increase to the disability support pension.That is, for example, if the charge is set at 70 per cent of the disability support pension, the increase in line with the cost of living must be proportional to the increase to the pension charge for the increase to be within the threshold. The three formulas will enable VCAT to determine whether an increase in a residential charge is within the threshold under which it must dismiss an application regardless of how the charge was set.
Therefore the formulas are here for a reason. The provisions that set out when VCAT can or cannot review an increase is quite clear -- that is, when the increase is not beyond the cost of living increase to the person's pension.
Ms HARTLAND (Western Metropolitan) -- The Greens will be supporting Ms Mikakos's amendments.
Committee divided on amendments:Ayes, 17
Barber, Mr Melhem, Mr
Broad, Ms (Teller) Mikakos, Ms
Darveniza, Ms Pennicuik, Ms
Eideh, Mr Pulford, Ms
Elasmar, Mr Scheffer, Mr
Hartland, Ms (Teller) Somyurek, Mr
Jennings, Mr Tarlamis, Mr
Leane, Mr Tee, Mr
Pairs Viney, Mr Atkinson, MrAmendments negatived.
Clause agreed to; clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.Reported to house without amendment.
Report adopted.Third reading
The PRESIDENT -- Order! The question is:
That the bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Pairs Dalla-Riva, Mr Viney, MrQuestion agreed to.
Read third time.Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 May 2010
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