People With Disabilities ACT acknowledges the Ngunnawal People as the traditional owners of the land on which we work.
Copyright June 2015 People With Disabilities ACT Inc
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Executive Officer| PWD ACT
About PWD ACT
People With Disabilities ACT Inc. (PWD ACT Inc.) is a not for profit consumer run systemic advocacy organisation which represents the interests of people with disabilities in the ACT. PWD ACT Inc. works to improve access to all amenities and to all forms of information and activities of the community. PWD ACT Inc. is a peak body which seeks to inform the community about disability issues. PWD ACT advocates from a human rights perspective and acknowledges the UN Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. The text of this Convention can be found at http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/convention.htm
PWD ACT has informed its individual and organisational members of this consultation in its May and June Newsletters and informed members of its intention to make a submission on this matter.
PWD ACT General Comment
The Discussion Paper proposes a new structure for the Human Rights Commission, the Public Advocate, the Public Trustee and Victims Support Act.
Our first observation is to express our concern that the drivers of the proposed new model appear to be cost cutting and theories of management and accountability. For the proposed model to win community support the justification for it must be found in a clear understanding of the practice of advocacy and rights protection and an appreciation of the feelings of people who deal with rights protection agencies. There are economic benefits in physically collating agencies and staff and in combining functions. However, these are lost on the individual who wants to deal with an agency which for them needs to be both professionally and physically independent. One of the benefits of the proposed model is said to be improved community interaction and public experience. However, we ask how can this be for the person who wants to enlist the aid of the complaints Commissioner has to visit that Commissioner in the same offices where the people he or she is complaining about are working eg the Public Trustee or Victims Support ACT. These issues of perception need to be addressed in the implementation of any new Human rights protection framework.
Specific Titles v Generic Descriptions
PWD ACT understands the reasoning for the proposal to do away with the specific titles Children and Young Peoples Commissioner, Disability and Community Services Commissioner, Discrimination Commissioner, Health Services Commissioner and Human Rights Commissioner and replace them with the descriptors: . However, we point out that initially, this will cause confusion. Advocacy theory is still a long way ahead of the general community and as a practical matter people will continue for some time to see their grievances as stemming from their attributes such as disability or from the service type they seek to access eg health. To ensure that people do not fall through the cracks an intensive education campaign will be necessary and the complaints commissioner will need to be proactive in their role. In particular, the Commissioners for children and for disability have specific sector consultation and systemic advocacy roles which must not be lost in the implementation of the new model.
It was apparent at the in person discussions at the community consultation on 11 June 2015 that the specific titles of Commissioners are more than symbolic. They convey a concern for the specific needs of children and young people, older people and people with disabilities, indicate an expertise in the needs of these people and carry consideration authority and gravitas.
Tensions from Governance and Funding arrangements
An important justification for the proposed model is that it will resolve current tensions in governance and funding arrangements caused by the need for the various functional Commissioners to lobby for resources for their area. The use of a President with over-arching managerial responsibility is proposed to overcome this problem. This meets the requirements of clarity and accountability in decision-making. However, it does not address the fundamental cause of these tensions which is an overall lack of resources. The new Commission will continue to have to deal with tensions and resource allocation issues between its public safety, advocacy and complaints handling functions. The additional problem is that under the proposed model, the President as the recipient of the funding and the allocator of resources is now the centre of these tensions.
At the in person consultation on 11 June a number of issues were raised regarding the balancing of the workloads between the various rights protection functions of the President and the Commissioners. In particular PWD ACT shares the concern that the proposed 3 Commissioners will not have the resources or the capacity to pick up the more specialised work of the Commissioner for disability as well as the other specialist roles.
A Presidential Not a Collegial Approach?
The proposed model puts the President forward as the champion for all individuals with individual Commissioners performing advisory roles. We question the wisdom of a single person approach to the promotion of rights protection? We also point out that there are many circumstances in which a rights protection message is delivered most effectively and with maximum impact when delivered by a Commissioner with a specific brief. This is particularly so in the gender, race and disability spheres.
PWD ACT supports the view put forward at the in person consultation on 11 June 2015 that in the context of the possible role for a Disability Commissioner under the soon to be released Quality and Safeguards Framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the abolition of the separate Disability Commissioner at this time may compromise protections for people with disabilities under the NDIS.
Key Question 1 Should the President Review Decisions of Commissioners?
If the President is to have the overarching role suggested for him or her, given that the President is the first recipient of a complaint, the allocator of a complaint, the allocator of the resources for that complaint and the lead systemic advocate for a matter arising from that complaint, these are arguments for some other form of first point internal review. Perhaps the internal review could be done by one of the other Commissioners.
Key Question 2 Should the President Exercise a systemic advocacy function while performing a discrimination complaints handling function?
There are real issues of conflict of roles with the proposal for the Presidency to perform both systemic advocacy and individual complaint adjudication functions. A preferable approach would be for the President to contract out systemic advocacy issues to appropriately qualified non-Government organisations or peak bodies on the basis that any outcomes report is issued in the names of both the President and the organisation contracted to undertake the systemic advocacy. we repeat our observation that in many instances advocacy messages are most effectively delivered by Commissioners with specialist expertise eg in areas such as race, gender and disability.
Key Question 3 Key benefits and risks of placing the public guardian function in a separate arm of the office of the Public Trustee
PWD ACT understands the reason for this proposal to place the public guardian function in the Public Trustee Office as a separate arm of that office. However, we question the implementation of this idea at this time when the Guardianship Act is currently under review and the outcome of this review is likely to be that guardianship in the ACT will take a very different form to its current form. We point out that there will always be a tension between the property management imperatives of the trustee role and the person centred focus of the guardianship role when that role is implemented as we believe it should be.