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Co-ops Can Help Deliver on ‘Great Promise’ of NDIS

23 June 2016 at 10:40 am
Ellie Cooper
The cooperative business model has the power to support and protect both service providers and consumers under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to the sector’s peak body.

Ellie Cooper | 23 June 2016 at 10:40 am


Co-ops Can Help Deliver on ‘Great Promise’ of NDIS
23 June 2016 at 10:40 am

The cooperative business model has the power to support and protect both service providers and consumers under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to the sector’s peak body.

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CEO of the Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals (BCCM) Melina Morrison said the model would give consumers more choice and control when the NDIS is rolled out in July.

“This is just a huge opportunity to allow the consumers of disability services to organise themselves in the marketplace so they have access, basically as bulk purchases,” Morrison told Pro Bono Australia News.

“[The] NDIS is predicated on the idea that personalised budgets create more choice and control for people living with disability, but for that to happen you need marketplaces where there is actually that choice.

“Cooperatives and mutuals can help organise the market for disability services… in a way that it can actually deliver on the great promise of the NDIS, which is empowerment to people living with disability choice, control, diversity.”

She said if consumers, or “budget holders” who received funding under the NDIS, pooled their finances together they would have more service options at their disposal.

“It creates the opportunity for them to scale up their purchasing,” she said.

“So they might get a better range of services because they can enter the market as a larger purchaser. That’s on the demand side.”

Morrison said there were also great opportunities for cooperatives on the supply side of the NDIS, especially for organisations that are likely to struggle under the new service model.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is that there are a lot of existing providers of services which are… not sufficiently large enough or robust enough to compete in the new decentralised marketplace,” she said.

“So what they can do is come together in enterprise cooperatives… so they can scale up and get some backroom efficiency, so they can compete with larger providers.

“But at the same time, because it’s a cooperative and it’s democratically owned and controlled by the service provider organisations, they don’t have to lose their individual autonomy or even the community connections that they’ve built up as individual organisations.

“We see this as very important, again, to keeping some choice and diversity in the provision of disability services.”

The PaRA Cooperative, or parent-assisted residential accommodation, which operates in Sydney, is run by the parents of three young men with autism, as well as their three staff.

Steve Anthony’s son Patrick, 27, had been living in a house administered by a large non-government service provider for five years, with the two other men also living there for three and four years respectively.

Anthony worked with the New South Wales Government to combine the three disability support packages and establish a cooperative.  

“They were used to the house, and that house was run as a family-governance model so we had a fair bit of say in terms of how things were done. But the NGO was taking about 20 per cent of the funding for its overheads,” Anthony told Pro Bono Australia News.

“Actually at the suggestion of a person from ADHC (Ageing, Disability and Home Care), we set up a cooperative to run the house and avoid most of those overhead costs.”

He said that cooperatives were “very democratic” organisations, which had benefits in addition to the cost efficiencies.

“The rules of the co-operatives [mean] only people who are actively participating can be members. So the three men with autism would be members if they could function appropriately, but as they can’t, we do that,” he said.

“But their families know them well and know what their needs are and their wants and interests. So we work collaboratively with the staff to see that they’re very well supported and have interesting lives.

“In the typical government group home, a person has no say about where it’s located, no say about who else shares the house with them, and there’s normally very limited access for parents and family members to interact with them, and all those things are terrible really.

“What you want is to have them living where they want with the people they want, supported by the carers who know them and are consistent and care about them, and with a lot of time with their families.”

Anthony said that there were also benefits for staff working in a cooperative.

“They feel that they’re involved and they can influence how things happen. We have almost no staff turnover as a result because it’s a place where they want to work,” he said.

However, there were a number of challenges to setting up PaRA Cooperative. Anthony is now working to create a framework for others who want to form a disability services co-op so they don’t have to “start from a blank sheet of paper”.

“We’ve advocated to the NDIA [National Disability Insurance Agency] that we create… an ‘incubator cooperative’ to provide services to help other families do what we’ve done forming a cooperative, registering a business name, recruiting staff, collecting all the different policies and documentation you need to be compliant with the disability service standards, and so on,” he said.

“There’s a lot of not bureaucracy because there are things which are worth doing but there are a lot of things which you need to do to be able to operate as a service provider. Most people would baulk at that.

“What we’re saying is, look, we’ve done it and we’ve learnt from that and other people can do the same thing.

“Informally I’ve helped a number of other families who have done or are going through the process of doing what we’ve done. It can be done for anybody from whom this model is suitable.”

Morrison also said several changes needed to be made to reduce the barriers to setting up a cooperative.

“The first thing is awareness, so it’s great that models like the PaRA Co-op are starting to come to the surface and be seen,” she said.

“We’re starting to see organisations with authority, like the NDIA… looking at how to facilitate the market for the provision of services. They can also look to the model that’s provided by cooperatives as being part of the solution. That’s an education issue as well.

“The second thing is we need to make it easier to set up and run a cooperative. What has happened with PaRA is they have encountered, in their journey to set up what many cooperatives encounter, which is just a range of red tape barriers that are really unnecessary.

“And what the Senate inquiry into cooperatives and mutuals has done is provided some recommendations to government of very small fixes tidying up legislation, fixing careless regulatory frameworks so that cooperatives can get on with doing the job they’re set up to do, which is to empower communities, help communities come together to get what they need as a community, as a cooperative.”

In its federal election policy, the BCCM asked all candidates and parties to support a level playing field for co-ops and mutuals. On Tuesday Labor committed to review existing legislation and regulations affecting co-ops and mutuals if elected.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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