The Tasmanian State Government is on the search for an Interim Disability Commissioner in a bid to provide a stronger voice to Tasmanians living with disability, however, an advocacy peak body is concerned that the new Commissioner won’t have adequate resources to be successful.
This week, the Tasmanian Government announced the commencement of its search to recruit a new Interim Disability Commissioner – fulfilling part of an Election commitment by the State Liberal Government.
While a State Disability Commissioner could be good news for Tasmanians with disability, advocates believe that the new Commissioner is being set up to fail.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Advocacy Tasmania, Leanne Groombridge, says that the new Disability Commissioner will have an enormous amount of work ahead of them.
“Tasmanians with disability have been crying out for an accessible, effective way to raise complaints about abuse and discrimination for decades,” says Ms Groombridge.
“But with so little money in the Budget, the new Commissioner is being set up to be ineffective.
“It’s critical that the Office of the Disability Commissioner is funded properly, is co-designed by the communities it exists to support, and that the new Disability Commissioner should be a person with disability themselves.”
The Tasmanian Government committed $1.2 million over four years to establish an Office of the Disability Commissioner.
However, Ms Groombridge says this is not enough and that establishing a Disability Commissioner is really important for the State, so it is important that it is done right.
“Tasmania has often led the country with new reforms, but we’ve always lagged behind on disability rights,” says Ms Groombridge.
“Now we’ve got a chance to turn that around – we mustn’t waste this opportunity.”
Tasmania will be joining a few other States that have similar Commissioners in place, such as the Ageing and Disability Commissioner in New South Wales and the Disability Services Commissioner in Victoria.
State Minister for Disability Services, Jo Palmer, says that the Interim Disability Commissioner is only a stepping stone to finding a permanent Disability Commissioner, which may take up to 18 months.
Minister Palmer adds that the establishment of a Disability Commissioner is a “crucial role” to support Tasmanians with disability, who have long expressed the wish to have a Disability Commissioner.
The Interim Disability Commissioner will:
- Lead and drive the implementation of the Disability Commission’s work
- Provide leadership, foster inclusion and promote accessibility in Government and mainstream services
- Promote and encourage the rights of people with disability
- Investigate how this role will work next to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, and other bodies and positions like the Ombudsman and the Health Complaints Commissioner
- Implement and monitor safeguarding mechanisms that protect people with disability from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation
- Respond and assist with allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability
Minister Palmer says, “Once established, the Disability Commissioner will provide a voice for all people with disability in Tasmania about matters that are important to them and will have a broad remit with a focus on inclusion, advocacy and rights.”
National disability peak body, People With Disability Australia (PWDA), have applauded the Tasmanian Government’s current recruitment process to establish a Tasmania Disability Commissioner.
Deputy CEO of PWDA, Carolyn Hodge, says, “Given this role will focus on the rights of people with disability, it is important that the role be filled by a suitably qualified person with disability.
“Lived experience alongside other qualifications brings a depth of knowledge, skills and insight into to the barriers faced by people with disability and provides a voice into the strategies to reduce them at all levels.”
Until appropriate legislation is passed, the Interim Disability Commissioner will have Authorised Officer powers under the Tasmania Disability Services Act 2011, which is currently under review.
Minister Palmer adds that the State Government is committed to ensuring people with disability have the same right of access to all services available to Tasmanians, as well as making sure the State is meeting the obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities and Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031.