People with disability and advocacy groups in Queensland have come together for a special campaign in a bid to get the State Government to make a funding commitment for ongoing disability advocacy services as the current funding ceases on 30 June 2021 and no word on future funding.
Disability advocacy services are currently funded through $4.9 million from the State Government, however, these services are now concerned as this funding ceases in late June and there isn't any announced funding to replace it.
The 'Stand With Us!' campaign, initiated by the Queensland Disability Advocacy Alliance (QDAA), is calling on the State Government to confirm that they will commit funding to independent, free disability advocacy services in Queensland.
Chief Executive Officer of Aged and Disability Advocacy Australia (ADA Australia), Geoff Rowe, says on behalf of the QDAA that if the Government doesn't approve funding for disability advocacy services, some of these groups will have to close and others will have to reduce their available services.
"Disability advocacy is a foundation for real inclusion in the community and without it many people with disabilities would be left out.
"With over 900,000 people with disability in Queensland, many of whom will need the support of advocacy organisations at some stage in their lives, it is a small investment with immeasurable benefits, both socially and economically.
"Advocacy supports those most vulnerable in our community to have a voice. Support from an advocate can mean staying out of hospital, or the prison system or avoiding homelessness – all high-cost service systems. Cutting advocacy funding will also mean the loss of some 90 jobs and years of expertise in the disability sector."
While the Alliance had a meeting with the State Government about this issue in February, they are concerned about the lack of funding commitment since the Queensland Budget announcement is getting closer.
Mr Rowe says they are seeking for the same level of funding from the State Government and that this funding will lead to good advocacy outcomes for people with disability.
Some disability advocacy services in the State are completely reliant on Government funding to provide services, so if Government funding is not committed it could lead to problems for these advocacy groups.
However, the Alliance is optimistic that the State Government will continue funding the important disability services available in Queensland.
On 24 March, a Rally will be held outside Queensland Parliament House to raise awareness about the vital services of disability advocates in the State.
Mr Rowe explains that independent advocacy services are important for Queenslanders with disability, as they represent the rights and interests of vulnerable people, including access to quality services and fair treatment.
Additionally, advocacy services can lobby Governments for change in legislation and policy that will benefit the quality of life for people with disability.
The Queensland Disability Advocacy Alliance believes that past Governments have understood the importance of independent advocacy for people with disability, resulting in over 25 years of funding for State advocacy services.
QDAA says the withdrawal of funding support now would mean Queensland is the only State in Australia to not receive funding or recognition for advocacy services from their Government.
Chair of Queenslanders with Disability Network, Des Ryan OAM, has also joined the campaign to ensure disability advocacy services continue.
Ms Ryan says, "I don’t know where I would be today without advocacy. A change in circumstances for my primary carer meant I needed to transition to living on my own. Advocacy was critical to me getting the right supports in place, maintaining my independence and continue working. Without it, I would likely have ended up in a nursing home.
"We have a right to these services and there are so many stories where disability advocacy has made a significant difference in people’s lives."
The Alliance also states that advocacy was originally thought to be part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), however, the Federal Government decided that the NDIS would not fund individual, citizen or systemic advocacy.
Mr Rowe adds, "This goes beyond the NDIS. Around 90,000 Queenslanders are expected to access the NDIS, which still leaves a vast majority of people with disabilities who need access to advocacy support that is unrelated to NDIS matters.
"It also comes at a time when people with disability are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.
"Disability advocacy has never mattered more."
Queensland Minister for Seniors and Disability Services, Craig Crawford, says the State Government has provided non-recurrent funding of $9.2 million for disability advocacy services over two years, from 2019-20 to 2020-21, as well as providing non-recurrent funding of $8.9 million to peak bodies over two years from 2019-20 to 2020-21, as Queensland transitioned to full scheme NDIS.
“A key priority for the Palaszczuk Government is building inclusive communities for all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Advocacy can be a vital support for people, including people with disability," says Minister Crawford.
"This is why I met with representatives from the Combined Advocacy Groups of Queensland on 25 February this year to discuss disability advocacy needs in Queensland.
"A new state disability plan will be developed in line with the new National Disability Strategy due to be released in 2021.
"The Commonwealth is currently leading a demand and gap analysis of independent disability advocacy and decision-making supports. Findings of this work will inform discussions on future arrangements for funding."
There are 15 organisations involved in the campaign, including ADA Australia, AMPARO Advocacy Inc, Capricorn Citizen Advocacy, Gold Coast Disability Advocacy, Independent Advocacy in the Tropics, Ipswich Regional Advocacy Services Inc., Mackay Advocacy Inc, People with Disabilities Australia, Queensland Advocacy, Queenslanders with Disability Network, Rights In Action, Speaking Up For You, Sunshine Coast Citizen Advocacy, and The Advocacy and Support Centre.
To learn more about the campaign, visit the Stand With Us! Website.
A rally is being held outside Parliament House in Queensland on Wednesday 24 March to raise awareness about disability advocacy. To find out more about the Rally, head to the Stand With Us! website.