Queensland Public Guardian renews call for a national community visitor program in the aged care sector after welcoming the State Government decision to retain the program at Queensland disability sites

The Queensland Public Guardian, Natalie Siegel-Brown, this week welcomed the decision by the Queensland State Government to retain the Community Visitor program at Queensland disability sites from 1 July 2019 when full roll-out out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Queensland will be complete.

The future of the program for disability sites has been uncertain for many months due to the introduction of the national NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, and how a state community visitor scheme would interact with a federal oversight body.

However while there are still a number of protocols and agreements that need to be established to ensure the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) Community Visitors will have a direct pathway for complaints and advocacy, the commitment of the Queensland State Government to retain the program ensures that some of Queensland’s most vulnerable citizens will continue to have someone in their corner looking out for them advocating for their human rights.

“Community Visitors are a vital safeguard in the systems that care for people with disability, many of these people have no voice in the systems that care for them. Ms Siegel-Brown said

“They are the ‘eyes and ears’ that see and hear what really happens on the ground in the delivery of services.

“In Queensland, they are equipped with the ‘teeth’ to complain and advocate on behalf of a person to ensure that their rights and interests are protected,” said Ms Siegel-Brown.

Community Visitors actively seek the views, wishes and preferences of people with disability in care, regarding their accommodation, care and treatment arrangements.

“Community Visitors are dedicated advocates who pursue the resolution of concerns both for, and with, the clients they support,” said Ms Siegel-Brown.

Given it is estimated that 72 per cent of active participants in the NDIS nationally will have a diagnosis of intellectual disability, autism or psychosocial disability, Community Visitors are vital in ensuring that these participants are able to make complaints, can access and navigate complaints mechanisms, and achieve resolution of issues that matter to them.

“The power of Community Visitors is enshrined in legislation - and last year, additional support and direction has been provided to community visitors to help them communicate with clients, particularly those who have complex communication barriers.

During 2017-18 OPG Community Visitors identified 1,788 issues during 4,781 visits to disability sites. A significant proportion related to personal safety and security, including complaints of abuse or assault. A large number of issues relating to the inappropriate use of restrictive practices were also discovered.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that without a Community Visitor program, such abuses of the fundamental rights of adults with impaired capacity would neither be addressed nor observed” said Ms Siegel-Brown. “That’s why I’m so relieved that the Queensland Government has made the right decision in choosing to retain the program.”

Ms Siegel- Brown also believes this serves as a timely reminder of how important it is to implement a similar scheme at a national level for the aged care sector.

“If we agree that a program is needed to provide oversight and accountability to the disability and mental health sectors, and to provide advocacy to such a vulnerable section of society, how can there be any question that the same thing is not needed for aged care?” Ms Siegel-Brown said.

“I am calling for the implementation of an oversight body with ‘teeth’ to identify, investigate and advocate for residents in aged care on all issues relating to abuse, neglect and exploitation, and especially where it comes to the unregulated use of restrictive practices.”

“This is especially important given the fact that the terms of reference of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety are disappointingly vague on the subject of restrictive practices, and do not address in any meaningful way the fact that aged-care residents across the country are subject on a daily basis to physical and chemical restraint with no oversight or accountability.”

“The Queensland State Government has done the right thing in acknowledging how important it is to have a Community Visitor program to protect and advocate for our society’s most vulnerable members, and now I call on the Federal Government to do the same.”


Office of the Public Guardian media contact: (07) 3006 2589 or commed@publicguardian.qld.gov.au