I rise today to speak on the Disability and Social Services Regulation Amendment Bill 2023. This bill is based on recommendations requested by the disability sector and does not propose major policy changes or the introduction of new policy, instead clarifying and streamlining existing processes. While it was before my time in Parliament, I am aware that this bill does hold several similarities to the legislation proposed in 2022 that was allowed to lapse by the government. There have been some additional reforms from the bill put forward last year, which includes the tidying up of some technical mistakes. While we support these changes and want to ensure all legislation is error free, it does not surprise me to see this government failed to get the bill right in the first place. We still present a stance of no opposition to this bill, a bill that introduces changes that have been proposed by the disability sector with good intentions towards people with disabilities.
There are some key points made throughout the amendments in the bill, many of which serve as improvements on current operations. This includes improving NDIS effectiveness by removing discrepancies, improving accreditation and creating a better alignment with state services. The NDIS is a fantastic program and one that has improved the quality of life for so many Australians. I welcome the conversation that is currently occurring at a federal level around ensuring the scheme remains sustainable and effective into the future. We need to make sure this works in the best interests of the people it is intended to support and does so in a responsible manner. This is something I have recently discussed with the federal member for Nicholls and disability service providers in my electorate. There is also its role in improving safeguards, particularly through updating information-sharing opportunities and creating protections for tenancy options for people with disabilities. People with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in our community and deserve the highest levels of safeguarding and support we can possibly provide for them.
While on the topic of the disability sector, I want to thank the disability service providers across the Euroa electorate for all the excellent work they are doing in our communities: Goulburn Options and Scope in Seymour, Yooralla and Wellways in Benalla, Simply Helping in Euroa and Atlas Disability Support in Kilmore, just to name a few. There are so many more doing such an important job and caring for some of the community’s most vulnerable people. Disability service providers in the Euroa electorate are currently doing a fantastic job. However, we must still look at ways to improve their operations and effectiveness, particularly when there are recommendations coming from inside the disability sector. Listening to their feedback, recommendations and knowledge of the ins and outs of the NDIS system is crucial to moving in the right direction. These services do so much for our communities and people with disabilities, providing a sense of independence, improving skills both recreationally and for independent living, and so much more. These services alleviate pressure on families and extend participants’ care to entire communities.
A lot of the most successful disability services come from the community and are for the community, ensuring participants are well supported in their local areas. Just in this past week I have had the chance to see the outstanding services that disability providers in my electorate can offer. Goulburn Options is a major disability service provider in Seymour that offers services to people across my electorate from Kilmore to Nagambie. Dating back to 1981, they were formed when a group of parents, carers and members of the public first put forward the idea for Seymour’s very own centre for adults with disability. For the past 42 years Goulburn Options has gone from strength to strength, growing exponentially and having the ability to purchase residential units, an op shop and a hub in the heart of Seymour. They currently operate a successful studio arts program called GO Art, which offers a welcoming environment where participants can express their individuality and create beautiful artwork.
I recently met with these artists with the federal member for Nicholls to discuss housing support and needs in the region as well as the need to better protect people accessing these services across the entire electorate. It was an opportunity for me to meet with some of the artists in the Goulburn Options GO Art program as they were all getting prepared for a pop-up art show that coincided with Seymour’s Tastes of the Goulburn festival, a major event for our region. I am proud to say I am now the owner of some wonderful paintings by the incredibly talented Lucinda Donnelly. Sadly, we are not allowed props in this house, otherwise I would show it all to you, but I would like to briefly quote Lucinda, who is rightfully so proud of her paintings and described them so perfectly:
My canvases have to do with Black Saturday fires. And it goes to show how powerful Mother Nature can truly be. It helps us to smile and to laugh. You can also learn to appreciate what we have in this country of ours and also just how lucky and truly fortunate we really are.
They are magnificent pieces of work and proudly hang in my office here at the Parliament of Victoria. Not only do they look stunning with their vivid colours and strong message, I particularly love the acknowledgment of the country’s extraordinary landscape. The sale of these paintings raises money for the GO Art participants as well as Goulburn Options, whose shopfront on Tallarook Street was severely impacted by the October floods, like much of the Seymour community. It was amazing to see the community rally behind them. These were not just locals from Seymour but individuals across the Goulburn Valley and visitors to the region.
To understand the joy that these services provide to the people with disabilities you only need to speak to some of the artists who were on show at the exhibition. One of these artists was Susan Meadows, who has been with the program for the past five years. Susan has built a loyal following on social media and has exhibited and sold her paintings in several group art shows. She is never without a smile and truly has a deep passion for art. The GO Art program gives her an opportunity to safely pursue this dream with the support of caring workers. In the words of Susan, ‘Art is my dream job.’
Rosemary Sheppard is another of the talented artists thriving due to the work done by Goulburn Options. Rosie is a very enthusiastic painter with a passion for mark-making, using countless layers of thick paint in her bright and colourful compositions. Like Susan, Rosie’s paintings have been in many group exhibitions, and she has sold work all over Australia. Link in bio – no, I am joking. Rosie’s fan base is huge, with people from all over the world following her on social media. I am also looking forward to Robbie Wales’s upcoming Seymour exhibition, where he highlights our wonderful natural landscape, because he guaranteed me I could not purchase any of his work on the weekend. These are just a couple of people from one program at one regional provider.
Across the electorate the number of lives being positively impacted by our disability providers is immense, and I thank them for their work. My time with the GO Art team was incredibly rewarding and truly demonstrated the necessity of these providers and the need to assist them in any way we can. The art program is just one of the many services that Goulburn Options offers, all of which have the intention of appreciating the individual capabilities of the people they serve. They offer a range of other services, including day programs that assist with independent living skills, vocational skills, recreation and leisure, health and wellbeing, social connections and community access, often through the form of fun activities. I am so appreciative that I was invited to witness firsthand the exceptional amount of care and service being provided by these local organisations.
Other service providers such as Yooralla are also doing amazing work across communities in my electorate. Yooralla has a community hub established in Benalla that has a strong educational and skill development focus, with links to the local community and surrounding areas. At their community hub Yooralla offers classes in creative arts, gardening, mindfulness, IT, drama, independent living skills and health and fitness, all of which we could probably do with here. These providers go out of their way to offer brilliant services to people with disabilities, catering programs to the individual and ensuring that the best possible service is provided. They work with customers to provide safe, supportive and interesting programs and work closely together with the NDIS. Projects like this are essential to our communities, particularly for those in regional areas without the same luxuries and accessibility as some metropolitan areas. Continuing to work to improve the operations of these providers is a priority for me.
In concluding on this bill today, I offer my wholehearted support for our amazing disability support workers and will continue to provide my backing for any piece of legislation in this house that will streamline and improve outcomes for those living with a disability in our region.