Qld Budget 2018 sees reforms take centre stage for disability services sector

By Dr Paul Harris, School of Human Services and Social Work; Member,Hopkins Centre and Menzies Health Institute of Queensland

Support for the continuing rollout of national reforms in the disability services sector, as might be expected, is the major focus of the 2018-19 state budget for the disability services area.

Despite significant restructuring within the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors, and a projected decrease in 435 full-time equivalent positions associated with the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), the 2018-19 allocation of approximately $2.2 billion represents an annual increase of almost 12 per cent for the disability services budget.

This reflects the significant costs associated with the continuing provision of services in addition to supporting participants to transition to the NDIS (or Commonwealth Continuity of Support Programme for people aged 65 and over). Over the next 12 months, this will include people in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Logan, Redlands, Maryborough and far north Queensland.

The budget announcements suggest the Queensland Government is honouring its commitment to ensure services are only withdrawn once service continuity is assured — an imperative given the significance of these changes and increased vulnerability that can result.

It is pleasing to see the state’s increasing recognition of related service needs, in particular, health and housing. The Disability Services budget for 2018-19 includes a continuation of funding ($10 million) for community nursing and allied health services for people who have transitioned to the NDIS, $6.2 million for equipment and vehicle modifications to support people’s participation in their community, and $1.72 million for the final instalment of the Elderly Parent Carer Innovation Initiative to provide sustainable housing options for adults with disability who can no longer be cared for by their elderly parents.

Furthermore, and consistent with the greater focus on active participation, choice and control, $9.5 million (over three years) has been earmarked for disability advocacy support, including peer-to-peer advocacy for people who are yet to enter the NDIS, and additional funding of $8.7 million (over two years) for disability advocacy services when the NDIS is fully implemented.

In keeping with commitments to ensure quality and safety, a total of $1.2 million (over three years) is allocated to support nationally consistent workforce screening and interim arrangements pending the establishment of the NDIS National Quality and Safeguarding Framework in 2019.

According to the Productivity Commission (2017), the scale, pace and nature of service reforms to fully implement the NDIS is unprecedented in Australia. Although expenditure to date is broadly on track with the longer-term modelling, the Commission notes that participant numbers will increase markedly in the next couple of years, with the majority of Queenslanders transitioning to the NDIS in next 12 months. Indeed, the readiness of the sector is a key concern.

As outlined in their 2017 report, the workforce needs to double in the short to medium term, and the number of NDIS providers will need to increase between four- and tenfold accordingly. In this context, one of the highlights of the Department of Employment, Small Business and Training 2018-19 budget is a $5 million industry-led National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) Training and Skills Support Strategy.

The three-year initiative, which seeks to support NDIS workforce development, has a strong focus on regional communities in recognition of their specific labour supply challenges and is in keeping with calls for state governments to assume greater responsibility for workforce development during this transition phase (Productivity Commission, 2017).

Nevertheless, further opportunities still exist to partner with tertiary education providers, for instance, in relation the provision of targeted, funded scholarships and other pathway opportunities to develop the future NDIS workforce and its capacity to respond to diverse needs.