New Powers for the Disability Services Commissioner
17 August 2017 at 8:28 am
The Victorian Disability Services Commissioner (DSC) has been given new investigative and inspection powers to assist people with a disability.
The newly enacted Disability Amendment Act 2017 gives the commissioner new powers to initiate investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect, investigate any matter referred by the minister that relates to service provision, complaints, or abuse and neglect; visit and inspect certain disability services without a warrant; and provide education and information about preventing and responding to abuse.
The Disability Services Commissioner Laurie Harkin AM said the Disability Amendment Act 2017 recognised the need “to build a strong culture of zero tolerance to abuse in Victorian disability services”.
“These enhanced oversight powers for my office will help to strengthen safeguards for people with a disability and improve their safety and wellbeing,” Harkin said.
“These changes allow DSC greater powers to investigate and direct service providers to take action to make service improvements for the benefit of people with a disability.”
The increased powers follow recommendations from a parliamentary inquiry into abuse and disability services in Victoria in 2016. The inquiry called for a “renewing of the commissioner’s role as the independent oversight body for disability services in Victoria”.
The inquiry chair Maree Edwards said at the time that throughout the inquiry the voices of people with disability, their families, carers, advocates and disability sector workers had “reinforced over and again that the disability sector in Victoria is marked by an intrinsic lack of effective safeguarding and oversight”.
“Fundamental change in the sector is needed to address these ingrained issues of violence, abuse and neglect,” Edwards said.
A spokesperson for the commissioner said that previously the DSC could only investigate formal complaints from individuals or service providers and it could not instigate investigations following allegations made via the media or other avenues.
The spokesperson said this would immediately change under the new legislation which came into force on Wednesday.
In 2015-16 the office of the DSC handled almost 1,000 complaints from people with disability and service providers.