Morrison government rejected Victoria's pleas to help disability sector

August 16, 2020
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A National Disability Insurance Agency representative attends the group’s daily meetings, but there are currently no formal agreements or measures in place. The Andrews government has indicated while the Commonwealth is yet to formally respond to the request, Mr Robert has declined the offer.

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Victoria on Sunday recorded 279 new cases of coronavirus and 16 deaths, 11 of which were connected to aged-care outbreaks, and the government extended the state of emergency for another four weeks.

Mr Andrews said the latest figures provided “cautious optimism and real hope” that Victoria was succeeding despite the “pain” of stage four restrictions. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton revealed the effective reproduction rate was sitting at 0.86, meaning for every 100 people who are infected with COVID-19, they pass it on to 86 others.

“No one day necessarily guarantees the outcome. That is a long, hard slog,” the Premier said.

“This is an endurance race, it’s not a sprint, in any way. And whilst these numbers are positive, I wouldn’t want anyone in any place in Victoria to think that we had the luxury of backing off. We’ve just got to stay the course on this.”

There are currently 81 active cases – 61 staff and 20 residents – across 53 disability facilities, a decrease of eight from the previous day. To date, there have been two deaths connected to disability homes.

Twenty-seven of those active cases are in state-run homes in the process of being transferred to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, 53 are in NDIS-funded facilities, and one is state-funded.

“Just as we have stood up, I think, a really good system [for the aged-care response]: we’ve been asked to help, we’re doing everything we’ve been asked to do, most senior people are sitting around the same table every day, every night trying to have that in real time, acute focus on what’s happening,” Mr Andrews said.

“I think my view is that will serve us well in disability services as well. I think that matter, (is) just something we’re going back and forth with the Commonwealth on. We’ll get there.”

When asked if the Commonwealth was resisting the state’s request, Mr Andrews said: “I’m not going to be able to speak to that. Minister [Stuart] Robert will be the person to talk to that.”

NDIS Minister Stuart Robert rejected Victoria’s pleas to set up a joint taskforce. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Robert has rejected Victoria’s claims that the federal government is not formally part of the Disability Rapid Response Group, saying the Commonwealth had been a “formal member” of the unit since July 29.

“Coordination at the Commonwealth level for a whole of Australia rapid identification and resolution of policy and operational issues is being led through the NDIS Critical Response Group,” the federal minister said in a statement.

“I have previously announced additional temporary measures for NDIS participants and providers in Victoria to ensure continuity of services in a COVID-safe setting. This includes the ability for NDIS participants and providers to claim for [personal protective equipment] via a participant’s plan.

“The NDIA has created a panel of four large experienced disability providers to offer additional workforce support for participants living in residential support settings.”

On April 8, Mr Donnellan wrote to Mr Robert regarding priority coronavirus issues ahead of the Disability Reform Council meeting scheduled for the following day.

Some of the key issues he raised were about access and supply to personal protective equipment, concerns of NDIS’ capacity to resolve ‘provider of last resort’ issues, and the lack of a surge workforce to respond if staff were furloughed in large numbers.

The Victorian government also asked the Commonwealth to establish a Crisis Accommodation Team to help deliver alternative accommodation if there were outbreaks at disability homes, and extend financial support to five “transfer” providers.

A month later, on May 11, Mr Donnellan again raised issues around “providers of last resort”, and managing outbreaks in the sector. Mr Robert told state and federal disability ministers the federal government would not be establishing an “aged-care style” package for the disability sector.

The NDIS Minister said the federal government had worked closely with state and territory leaders and the sector since the early stages of the pandemic.

“Aspen Medical has been appointed to provide clinical first response for any identified outbreak
to ensure that infection control procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) and nursing support is in place for residents and workers if needed,” Mr Robert said in response to concerns around PPE.

“It is my priority to ensure continuity of supports along with the health and wellbeing of NDIS participants and their support workers and I look forward to continuing to work with the Victorian Government on this important issue.”

With Rob Harris

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