Disability Inclusion Bill
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:20): I rise today in support of the Disability Inclusion Bill. Very briefly, the bill will establish a disability inclusion plan for the state and require all government and local government agencies to establish disability access and inclusion plans. I am very supportive of this and am heartened to see that principles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be enshrined in law.
The bill also outlines that those working with people with a disability will need to undertake screening to ensure that they are appropriate. I understand part of the urgency for this bill to pass is to ensure that the deadline for a 30 June start date for these screenings can be met. Again, I am supportive of this. Some people with a disability can be amongst the most vulnerable in the community and it is imperative that appropriate people work with them to minimise the risk of abuse or exploitation.
In terms of the screenings, I understand that some people are required to apply for three separate screenings through DCSI, one for working with people with a disability, one for working with children and one for working with the elderly. The government should work towards a system whereby one clearance would cover an individual to work with all vulnerable people. I understand the three were separated to adopt the highest benchmarks; however, having the highest benchmark for all three should surely be possible and take a lot of pressure off DCSI.
Further to this, as the system is now a dynamic system which monitors information from other agencies in real time, I do not understand the need for screenings to have an expiry. If a person is deemed to be unsuitable to work with vulnerable people, they and their employer are notified immediately. This is a much better system and it does not make sense that a renewal is required as any matters which would deem a person ineligible would be flagged immediately. I raised this with the previous government and hope that the new government will give consideration to this.
The bill has the ability to establish a Community Visitor Scheme whereby visitors will visit and inspect facilities, advocate and promote the rights of individuals and refer issues of concern to the relevant bodies. I am also supportive of this measure and I believe that the more eyes there are watching out for vulnerable persons the better it is.
The Community Visitor Scheme is similar to a community guardian scheme which was piloted 2011-12. The scheme matched volunteer community guardians with vulnerable persons who did not have anyone else in their lives who could act as a guardian on their behalf. A review of the scheme in 2013 recommended that the scheme be expanded; however, this was not something the former government adopted. I have spoken to the new Attorney-General about this and I understand she is considering the program.
With regard to the opposition's amendments to introduce a disability advocate and a 3 per cent threshold of people with a disability in the Public Service, I am concerned that the introduction of such a body is included in this bill. It does not seem to fit the scope of the bill, other than the fact that it relates to people with a disability. I do not have an issue with establishing a disability advocate and I am supportive of the idea; however, I am not convinced that this bill is the appropriate place for it.
The amendments do not provide for the advocate to have investigative powers and, instead, relies on state authorities preparing reports for the advocate upon request. I am not confident this would be the best model as I cannot see a full and frank report from state authorities being provided to the advocate, especially if there are major systemic issues.
I believe it would be best if the advocate had the power to investigate matters, much like the Ombudsman, and I would be eager to hear the opposition's response to this. With regard to the suggestion of a 3 per cent threshold of people with disability in the public service, I have raised privacy issues with the government. I understand that requiring people to disclose their disability would be a breach of privacy, and that this threshold would be based upon those who disclose voluntarily.
I have asked the government if this information is currently held for the Public Service, and if so, what the current proportion of people with a disability currently employed by the South Australian Public Service is, and I await their response. Given these comments and outstanding questions, I reserve my position on the amendments and look forward to discussing these matters further with both the government and the opposition.