Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Crimes Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme — Worker Screening) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:48 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

The Crimes Amendment (National Disability Insurance Scheme—Worker Screening) Bill 2018 facilitates access to criminal history data held by the Commonwealth for the purposes of conducting an NDIS worker screening check clearance. It's a bill that Labor both welcomes and supports. The change proposed in this bill enacts part of the Council of Australian Governments' decisions of December 2016 to implement a new quality and safeguards framework for the NDIS, which includes a commitment to work with states and territories to deliver nationally consistent worker screening for the NDIS.

Labor of course supported the establishment of a new quality and safeguards framework in the parliament last year. The aim of the NDIS worker screening policy is to protect people with a disability from harm and abuse. This bill will permit criminal history information to be disclosed and taken into account when assessing whether a person who works or seeks to work with a person with a disability poses a risk to such a person.

The Crimes Act 1914 of the Commonwealth states that people who have been convicted of a crime and have subsequently been pardoned or had their conviction quashed, or if their conviction has spent, are not required to disclose their criminal history. Currently, a small number of exceptions to this rule exist—for example, for those applying for a working-with-children check, or applying for employment with a law enforcement agency or an intelligence or security agency. This bill amends the Crimes Act to extend this exception to disclose criminal history to people who work or who seek to work with people with disability.

Of course, as the National Disability Insurance Scheme continues to roll out across Australia in the coming years, the number of disability service providers will increase. This growth is most notable in my own state of New South Wales, where the rollout is most advanced and where it will later this year reach full rollout. As we continue to see this growth in the NDIS, we need to make sure that the people taking these new jobs as part of the NDIS are thoroughly screened. This is a sensible reform that will go some way to improving the safety of people with disability.

Just this morning, we saw people on the front page of the Herald Sun with another tragic story of abuse against a young autistic boy outside a school in Melbourne. There was utterly appalling video of the boy being surrounded and punched by other young boys. Words cannot describe just how disgraceful this act of abuse was on this young boy with disability. Sadly, these shocking and harrowing cases of violence and abuse are far too often experienced, particularly by people with disability. They cannot be ignored.

We do need a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability so that we can bring about the systemic and lasting change that is needed. That is why, almost a year ago now, we announced that a Shorten Labor government would establish a royal commission into violence and abuse against people with disability. I again urge the Prime Minister to begin the work to establish a royal commission on this issue as quickly as possible.

Labor supports this particular bill because we support any action to protect people with disability from abuse, violence and neglect. Facilitating access to criminal history data held by the Commonwealth for the purposes of conducting an NDIS worker-screening check is an important safeguard in protecting people with disability. A nationally consistent worker screening check will make it more difficult for people with poor records in one jurisdiction from moving to another jurisdiction and continuing to place people with disability at risk of harm.

Labor welcomes this bill because we are serious about the safety and wellbeing of Australians, particularly Australians with disability. We continue to call on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and establish a royal commission into abuse and violence against people with disability as soon as possible.

12:53 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Disabled Australians experience discrimination and segregation every single day. The NDIS is an important reform that promotes the inclusion of disabled people within our society. It is also extremely important that the rights of people with disability are upheld. Violations of our human rights must end.

In 2015, the Community Affairs References Committee reported on the violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability in institutional and residential settings. The fourth recommendation of this report was that the Australian government consider establishing a disability worker registration scheme, including nationally consistent pre-emptive screening. The bill we are debating today amends the Crimes Act 1914 to allow criminal history information to be disclosed and considered for the purposes of worker screening related to work with disabled persons within the NDIS. This bill is a precursor to the full worker screening registration proposal, which I hope we will be debating soon. The Australian Greens support the bill before us today and the action to protect disabled people from violence, abuse and neglect. Minister Tehan stated, in his second reading speech in the other place, that people with disability have the right to be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse. Disabled people also have the right to safety. We have the right to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse. It is important to consider both the right to safety and our right to be supported by the people we choose when considering such legislation. Any safeguard should serve to inform, rather than dictate, these choices.

The Behind closed doors report, which was produced by my good friend Samantha Connor, of People With Disabilities WA, and Ben Keely, of Developmental Disability WA, stated:

… it was not clear that many of the regulatory systems (like Clear/Vulnerable Persons Cards or workers blacklists) would be effective preventers of violence, abuse and neglect …

and that 'the implementation of some of these systems would negatively impact upon choice, control and autonomy' of disabled people and further segregate us from society. An emphasis on developmental safeguards, including institutional developmental safeguards, is what will prove to be most effective. It is also important to keep registration costs to a minimum, particularly for those who are young or who work with young people and already need to complete working-with-children checks, which cost more than $100. These fees could create barriers to workforce participation.

Finally, I would like to reiterate once again that these safeguards do not replace the need for a royal commission into violence and abuse against and neglect of people with disability, which was the only recommendation of the community affairs committee's report that was not adopted or actioned. I do not want to hear another good word from the government in relation to disabled Australians until they have taken action to establish that royal commission. Until that action has taken place your words ring hollow and reveal the emptiness of your sentiment. Act now so that we can be heard and justice can be done. Together we must create an accessible and inclusive future for all.

12:57 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contributions and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.