Worker Screening Bill 2020 | Bill

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan): I rise today to make my contribution on the Worker Screening Bill 2020. I support this important bill, and I hope those opposite can also understand how important this piece of legislation is.

Mr Finn: He just said that.

Ms VAGHELA: Yes. But, Mr Finn, you did not even let me finish.

Mr Finn interjected.

Ms VAGHELA: Yes, and my next sentence was going to be, ‘I was glad to hear’, but Mr Finn just had to jump the gun. Victoria has signed up to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Nationally Consistent Worker Screening for the National Disability Insurance Scheme like any other Australian jurisdiction. It is completely reorganising the way we fund disability services for the better. The NDIS empowers the people with disabilities. It gives them an opportunity to make sure that they can control their future. It is a system where the person with disability can choose their own provider, giving them freedom and control. Today we have an opportunity here to make sure that the people who work in the disability industry can be trusted by the people they serve.

This bill is about protecting Victorians who use services under the NDIS. This bill provides a Victorian screening regime through which an applicant for an NDIS check will be subject to a check of their criminal and disciplinary history and given a clearance or an exclusion based on an assessment of the offence or misconduct. This NDIS check is akin to the current working with children scheme. It will help create one framework for screening people working within the NDIS and with children.

Labor governments have a long and proud history of safeguarding vulnerable people and children. It was the Bracks government that introduced the Working with Children Act 2005, and it was the former federal Labor government that introduced the national disability insurance scheme, the NDIS. I am sure all of you can agree how important the Working with Children Act 2005 is. It has played a critical role in keeping children safe through establishing a process to screen the criminal history information of people who work or seek to work with them. Children have every right to be safe wherever they are, and it is our responsibility to do all we can to ensure they are safe wherever they are. Since the working with children check was introduced we have seen thousands of people denied the ability to work with children. Those rejections tell us that countless children have remained safe. We think that people with disability deserve the same level of strict protections. People living with disability should never have to worry about abuse from the people who are supposed to support them. Through this bill we are extending protections so people with disability can have peace of mind.

Registered NDIS providers are required to meet worker screening requirements, which include ensuring that certain workers are subject to an NDIS check. That is a condition of registration. The people who are already working in this industry are outstanding people. They have dedicated their lives to supporting their clients. This is a job with high responsibilities, and it should come with strict safeguards. We observed National Carers Week earlier this month. National Carers Week, from 11 to 17 October, was an opportunity to recognise their incredible efforts. There are 2.65 million Australians who provide care and support to their family members or friends with disability. Among those 2.65 million Australians are 736 600 Victorians. Our amazing carers make an enormous difference to the people they care for. Many people that I know are doing amazing work caring for people with disability. This bill before us also recognises the important work our carers are doing by acknowledging the need to provide protection to people with disability. We all know that there is no place for abuse anywhere. Anyone who works in a job with such high responsibility as caring for people who are vulnerable must meet strict criteria to make sure that they are the best fit for the job.

This bill is about a single screening framework for people working with vulnerable persons. This bill will be placing the NDIS worker screen and the working with children check in a single framework. This makes sense as the risk assessment considerations of both checks have common objectives. The single screening framework of the combined screening programs will bring consistency in both programs over time. In a longer term this new framework can be used to add extra worker screening programs for different industries if necessary.

This bill is a result of considerable work across Australian governments. This has helped in creating a nationally consistent screening check for workers under the NDIS. The Council of Australian Governments endorsed the Intergovernmental Agreement on Nationally Consistent Worker Screening for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which responded to the need identified in the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework for a nationally consistent system for worker screening. Five key parameters for NDIS worker screens for each state and territory were set by intergovernmental agreement. They include, first, who has to get an NDIS worker screen; second, how to work with self-managed NDIS participants; third, how to apply for a screen; fourth, what the offences should be for working without a screen; and, fifth, the types of information to be checked and who should be considered automatically cleared or excluded and who should be presumed excluded. This intergovernmental cooperation means that the worker screen will apply across state and territory lines, roles and employers. Other states and territories are working on their versions of this bill.

The bill is about information sharing to support Victoria’s commitment to no diminution in safeguards. The Victorian government has committed to no diminution of safeguards during transition to the NDIS in Victoria. We have established the disability worker exclusion scheme to operate while Victoria transitions to the NDIS. This means that existing levels of protection will be maintained during the transitional phase before the commencement of the NDIS worker screen.

The bill will also provide a mechanism to enable information from the disability worker exclusion scheme, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, to be shared and used to ensure that a person who applies for an NDIS worker screen can be excluded on the basis of disability worker exclusion scheme information. Any such exclusion would apply nationally. The bill achieves this by providing that where a person who is listed on the disability worker exclusion list applies for an NDIS worker screen, that person must be risk assessed, providing for identifying information to be transferred to the worker screening unit so that the screening unit is able to ascertain whether an applicant for an NDIS worker screen has been previously excluded and by enabling, during the course of the person’s assessment, the worker screening unit to obtain the information that gave rise to the exclusion, pursuant to information-sharing arrangements.

The bill also facilitates the provision of information to the bodies established under the Disability Service Safeguards Act 2018 in order to support consistency in screening outcomes to the extent possible between the NDIS worker screen and Victoria’s voluntary disability worker registration screening. Basically in the bill the two worker checks are structured very similarly. They will include common elements, such as the establishment of identity, the checking of criminal history and the categorisation of offences and conduct into three risk assessment levels according to the seriousness of the identified conduct.

While there are many similarities between the working with children check and the NDIS check, there are necessarily some differences, in most cases due to the national agreement around what NDIS worker screening should look like. NDIS workers who hold a clearance will be identified on the national clearance database and will be subject to national continuous monitoring, meaning that clearances and exclusions will be nationally portable across roles and employers within the NDIS. NDIS clearance holders will not need to hold a card, as is the case with the working with children check. The new NDIS check will also take account of any relevant information held by the Department of Health and Human Services if a person who has been excluded from working with people with disability under the disability worker exclusion scheme applies for an NDIS check.

In terms of consultation, this bill gives effect to Victoria’s agreement to implement NDIS worker screening in accordance with the intergovernmental agreement. So in short, the Worker Screening Bill seeks to create a single framework for screening potential workers in the NDIS and for child-related work. The creation of the new worker screening framework also makes it easier to add additional checks and screens for other industries in the future. The merging of working with children checks and NDIS screening into a single framework is also being done in Tasmania and the ACT.

In conclusion, I am glad to be contributing in support of another bill that will protect and support Victorians, especially our vulnerable Victorians. This bill ensures that our community members with disability can feel safe. I am proud of the Andrews Labor government’s commitment towards a more inclusive Victoria. I commend the bill to the house.

Sitting suspended 2.01 pm until 3.06 pm.