Disability Royal Commission to report in 2020

Tuesday, 14 January 2020


    In this interview, Fiona Payne, GAICD, chair of WA therapy provider Therapy Focus, who sits on the AICD NFP Chairs Forum and is a speaker at the Australian Governance Summit in March, looks at the governance and policy implications.

    A total of 177 submissions have been received by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. Here Ms Payne outlines what directors need to know about the main issues.

    The Royal Commission has released an Accessibility and Inclusion Strategy - is this a significant step forward as you see it?

    It is important that the commission’s approach to enabling people to tell their story is outlined, as this will help people know what to expect and ensure accountability. This is probably a document that should have been in place before hearings began.

    Lack of clinical governance skills by directors has been raised as an issue by the Aged Care Royal Commission. Is this relevant to disability too?

    It is important that those responsible for governing disability services understand what a good service looks like, from both the regulator and the consumers’ perspective. There’s great value in someone on the board having clinical expertise, so the risks associated with providing clinical services can be appropriately overseen. All of the human service boards I am involved with have a committee that oversees this aspect of their business.

    A total of 177 submission have been received by the RC. Which may be important for directors and why?

    Each submission from a person with a disability tells a story, and these are important for directors because they are often learning opportunities and a chance to see things differently. Those submissions which describe successful and practical ways for directors to get to know their business better will be of interest, as will those that describe how organisations are managing the risks associated with people providing support to people who are often vulnerable.

    The Disability Royal Commission started hearings in November last year. What are a couple of main points to emerge and are you satisfied with the early progress of hearings?

    The commission is highlighting the difficulty in changing large systems, despite evidence to indicate better ways of managing the systems. We have also heard how important it is for people with disability being able to make choices about where and how they live.

    Other key points from my perspective include advocacy groups demanding that the commission hears directly from people with disability when considering specific issues and the imperative for the commission to provide a safe and supportive environment for people to share their stories.

    There are also challenges in providing students with the support they need to access the education that best meets their needs.

    Are you aware of any changes already taking place in the sector?

    In response to previous royal commissions, boards are exploring different ways to hear from the people who use their services, and get to know their businesses better. Organisations are investing heavily in systems and processes that enable them to monitor performance, especially non-financial risks such as staff engagement, complaints and incidents, regulatory compliance.

    Do you think things will change in the disability sector after this RC? Why or why not?

    Things must change, in order to honour those people who have had the courage to speak up, and those who never got the chance to. The DRC is an opportunity to raise awareness of the many barriers people with disability face in living the life they choose to lead, and equally importantly, make recommendations about how things can be done differently to reduce and remove these barriers.

    What things need to change in your view?

    People with disability need to be much more actively involved in deciding how they live their lives. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) offers a real opportunity to make this happen. The voice of people with disability needs to be heard at all levels in the organisation, including the boardroom.

    As a community, we need to work to reduce the barriers that make it hard for people to receive an education, find a job and live in a home of their choice.

    What implications do you think there may be for the NDIS?

    The NDIS is a significant enabler of social and economic participation, so the DRC can reinforce this function and recommend ways in which the scheme can be enhanced.

    It's still early days for the NDIS, which won’t be rolled out fully until mid-2020, and already many changes have been made based on feedback from people with disability and organisations that provide services. More are likely to come. The role of the NDIS Quality & Safeguarding Commission will likely receive significant attention, and early feedback indicates onerous reporting obligations are not achievable or sustainable.

    After the royal commission, there will be so much that NFP boards need to focus on. Where should they start?

    The most important thing is that directors know their NFP and are passionate about its purpose. There needs to be a strong alignment with their personal values and that of their organisation – they need to walk the talk!

    They need to ensure they have the right information to inform their decision making and monitor the organisation’s performance. They need to understand the culture of the organization and the value proposition it offers to staff and customers.

    They need to invest time and energy in understanding their sector, including the current issues, the market, the opportunities and the risks.

    They need to keep up to date with broader governance issues and consider the implications for their NFP.

    The Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, led by former Federal Court judge Ronald Sackville AO, QC, will last three years and report finally by the end of April 2022, with an interim report due in October 2020.

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