Adjournment debate - Rural Access program

Extracted from Hansard
05 September 2018

Adjournment debate – Rural Access program

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing, and the action I seek is the continuation of funding for the Rural Access program. I have been told that as Victoria transitions to the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) several state-supported services are being wrapped up, and there is a real fear among those who work in the sector that the work done by those services will fall through the gaps. I have been made aware that state funding for Rural Access finished in June this year, with the federal government picking up the bill until June 2019.

Rural Access works in partnership with local organisations, businesses and the broader community to develop new ways of including people with disability in the life of their communities. Rural Access plans and develops projects across the full range of community infrastructure, including education and training, transport, health, accommodation and housing, the built environment, community planning, communication and information, sport and recreation, arts and culture, community events and activities and community awareness. In my electorate this has resulted in programs like beach wheelchairs, scooter recharge points and the welcoming business program, which easily identifies businesses that are accessible to people with mobility aids.

The fear is that when funding for this program ends this important work will cease and the positive and proactive programs it was rolling out will stop being developed. There is also a fear that it will be left to others who work in the disability space, overburdening them and meaning the work will not be done in the best way it can be because they will be stretched thin. I believe the state government must remain involved in the space to ensure important work like this is not falling through the gaps and being forgotten.

In recent months I raised a matter in this place regarding disability access to the Warrnambool line train and the issues with accessible toilets being out of order over successive weeks. This is just one example of where people with a disability are disadvantaged when trying to be involved within their communities. I know there are many more challenges people with disabilities face in my own electorate and right across the state, so it seems like a blatant cost-saving measure for this government to cease its responsibility.

This is a government that purports to be making things fair and putting people first, but I am struggling to see how wrapping up funding for important positions like this is making things fair or putting people first. The Victorian government must not wash its hands of the disability sector, especially when we are talking about ensuring people with a disability are able to be involved in the communities in which they live. As with the rollout of any major policy there are bound to be teething problems with the NDIS, and I sincerely hope this is one of those and not a deliberate cost-saving measure.

The state government has a responsibility to stay involved in the disability space and should not be rushing to shift its disability services. State governments still have a role to play, and that responsibility should not be shirked. I urge the minister to continue this funding as a matter of priority and to continue improving accessibility for people with a disability in our community.