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Will a new Disability Inclusion Act improve inclusion of people with disability?

Last week the NSW Parliament passed the Disability Inclusion Act 2014. The new legislation replaces the Disability Services Act 1993, and updates NSW legislation to fit with contemporary approaches to disability.

The Disability Services Act (DSA) was quite ahead of its time, and while the DSA was under review last year, NCOSS and the NSW Disability Network Forum argued that:

[T]he NSW Disability Services Act 1993 contained the potential for person-centred approaches to be implemented at any time during the operation of the legislation. The implementation of the Act however, effectively inhibited a more person-centred approach...

Nevertheless, there was clearly a need to change legislation in NSW because Australia has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and NSW has committed to establishing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in full. The NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform that fundamentally transforms the basis for providing disability support. It is underpinned by human rights, which were not present in the DSA. The Disability Inclusion Act, recognises these rights and principles.

Just as the implementation of the DSA became limiting over time, the implementation of the principles in the Disability Inclusion legislation will determine how far it goes towards improving access and inclusion of people with disability.

The new Act, like the DSA, requires all government agencies and local government to develop a Disability Inclusion Action Plan. Historical experience has shown that without commitment from senior decision makers and adequate resourcing, Disability Action Plans (as they used to be known) have not achieved full inclusion of people with disability in government services and processes. The Inclusion Act does not change this state of affairs.

This is why independent advocacy, independent information and representation of people with disability are so important. They prompt inclusion, give people with disability support to negotiate and navigate systems, and give people a voice in decisions that affect them. In debate on the Bill in the Upper House, there was considerable discussion about the role of information, advocacy and representation. Disappointingly, the Government has made no commitment to ongoing resourcing for disability advocacy, information and representation under the provisions of the Act. Funding for these functions ceases on 30 June 2015, with no guarantee of ongoing resources. NCOSS will continue to pursue the NSW Government to guarantee that these supports remain available to people with disability.