MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (17:24): I would like to begin by thanking members for their contributions on the Worker Screening Bill 2020. This is a bill that will give effect to Victoria’s commitment to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Nationally Consistent Worker Screening for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I am pleased to say that it has been a very straightforward debate with cross-partisan support for the bill. Importantly we remain on track to meet the current deadline to have this scheme in place early next year. We all recognise how important it is that people with disability be able to have full confidence in the people who work with them. The debate has reflected how cohesively states and territories and all parties have worked together in implementing this important reform. This bill will establish a new national disability insurance scheme worker screening program to give them that confidence. It will provide a thorough screen for all people who work within the NDIS and will look at a range of criminal conduct through the background checks. Additionally, it will allow for information sharing with the disability worker registration scheme so as to allow an even more comprehensive review of potential workers. The bill will not affect the operation of the working with children check, but it will move it into a new legislative framework.
A number of matters have been raised that I would like to respond to. In the other place Mr Bull made note of the operation of the Disability Services Safeguards Act 2018, and whether there was any ongoing role for DHHS in very complex cases. This goes to a related aspect of the bill which of course is the operation of the NDIS. While all existing Victorian state clients have now transitioned to the NDIS, the Department of Health and Human Services is continuing to operate the intensive support team, which currently comprises 13 staff. The intensive support team has been in operation since April 2017 and continues to provide support and guidance for Victorians with a disability who have complex needs, particularly those with mental health or disability-related health needs. This is available to both existing NDIS participants and prospective participants to assist with access, planning and service arrangements. Four staff in the intensive support team were funded in 2020–21 to support Victorian NDIS participants who require assistance due to COVID-related risk factors, including incident case management support and to work with the National Disability Insurance Agency to ensure continuity of disability care and support arrangements.
One issue which was raised was alleged duplication of the NDIS code of conduct and the Disability Worker Commission’s code of conduct. While this is a matter that relates more closely to the operation of the NDIS as opposed to falling strictly within the scope of this bill, it is an important issue and I will address this briefly. Victoria has a proud history of having the highest level of quality and safeguards of anywhere else in the country. We also have been very clear with Victorians from the outset that we would not reduce the level of safeguards due to the transition to the NDIS. The Disability Worker Commission’s code of conduct is the same as the NDIS code of conduct to avoid confusion. The current law ensures that all Victorian disability workers are subject to the same code of conduct irrespective of whether they are providing NDIS services or not. Otherwise disability workers could be held to a different set of safeguards for people receiving disability services. If the codes were not the same, it would also create gaps in the system. For example, a worker could be banned by the NDIS quality and safeguards commissions as they have been found unsafe to provide disability services but could be investigated by the Disability Worker Commission and prevented from providing non-NDIS services such as through the TAC.
Additionally, I understand Ms Maxwell had a range of questions that relate to the operation of the working with children checks and that the Attorney-General has addressed these questions with Ms Maxwell, but I would like to thank her in particular for her ongoing advocacy in this space. We all agree that the safety of children has to be one of the most important things we deal with as members of Parliament.
Mr Grimley raised an issue around why the working with children checks is not a no clearance, no start system, and in response I say a person who has been charged with the most serious offences for the purposes of a working with children check is prohibited from working with children until such time as they are given a check, if they are given one at all. In the case of sexual offences referred to by Mr Grimley, the working with children check is in fact a no clearance, no start. It is an offence for such a person to work with children. Schedule 5 of the bill includes those offences and matters that result in a no clearance, no start for certain people. Of course not everyone has a criminal record, and it is important to remember that the working with children check, important as it is, is only one tool we have to protect children.
I take this opportunity to again thank all members who have contributed to the second-reading debate, and I do commend this bill to the house.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.