Supported Decision Making Podcast

Community Recovery: An Interview with Suzanne Orr ACT Minister for Disability

July 01, 2020 Advocacy for Inclusion Season 2 Episode 13
Supported Decision Making Podcast
Community Recovery: An Interview with Suzanne Orr ACT Minister for Disability
Chapters
Supported Decision Making Podcast
Community Recovery: An Interview with Suzanne Orr ACT Minister for Disability
Jul 01, 2020 Season 2 Episode 13
Advocacy for Inclusion

Today we speak to the ACT Minister for Disability Suzanne Orr. We cover the ACT Disability Strategy and the roadmap to recovery, and how people with disability will be supported throughout the recovery. 

Show links:

Canberra Relief Network: https://canberrarelief.com.au/

Canberra Roadmap to Recovery: https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/community/canberra-recovery#:~:text=02)%206205%200900.-,Canberra's%20Recovery%20Plan%3A%20Community%20Recovery%20Roadmap,hail%20and%20now%20COVID%2D19.&text=The%20Phase%201%20snapshot%20in,reduce%20cost%20of%20living%20pressures.

Show Notes Transcript

Today we speak to the ACT Minister for Disability Suzanne Orr. We cover the ACT Disability Strategy and the roadmap to recovery, and how people with disability will be supported throughout the recovery. 

Show links:

Canberra Relief Network: https://canberrarelief.com.au/

Canberra Roadmap to Recovery: https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/community/canberra-recovery#:~:text=02)%206205%200900.-,Canberra's%20Recovery%20Plan%3A%20Community%20Recovery%20Roadmap,hail%20and%20now%20COVID%2D19.&text=The%20Phase%201%20snapshot%20in,reduce%20cost%20of%20living%20pressures.

Support the show (https://buff.ly/3dGs2dG)

 

Rob   

 

Welcome to Advocacy for Inclusion's Staying Connected podcast series. Last year, we presented a podcast series on supported decision making. That was about building the important skills we need to support other people when they're making decisions. 2019 feels like a million years ago now. Since then, we've had bushfires everywhere and then the relief of rain. Now, we together face the challenge of COVID-19 or the Coronavirus. In our staying connected podcast, we will find our way through these challenging times, together.   

 

The intense challenges of the past six months or more, starting with the devastation and thick smoke of the summer bushfires, then followed by the impact of the global pandemic, have highlighted the need for all communities to be prepared, to have emergency plans in place, and to be well resourced with essential supplies at the local level.  

 

While the ACT has no current cases, COVID-19 is more generally still around. We only have to look across the border at Victoria to know that's true. Only today, the World Health Organization chief said, "The hard reality is this is not even close to being over".  

 

At the local level here in Canberra, the ACT government published its ACT COVID-19 disability strategy last month, and today We're joined by Suzanne Orr, ACT Minister for disability. Welcome to the podcast minister. 

 

Minister Orr   

Thank you. Very, very honoured to be joining this podcast. 

 

Rob   

You're a minister with a number of portfolios, and that must be challenging at the best of time to focus on everything that's happening. How's it been dealing with all your range of portfolios during this time of COVID-19? 

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, it's been a really interesting time. I do have a range of portfolios. And it's interesting because, on paper, you wouldn't think they all fit together or have much in common, but there are actually things that run across all of them, even in places where you wouldn't necessarily assume that there's a connection. The Work Safety portfolio, for example, you wouldn't think it necessarily has a lot to do with community services or to do with disability. But there's actually quite a lot in there when you start looking at, say, work within the community sector or the disability sector, and making sure that they do feel safe at work so that they will be going out and helping people, particularly during the COVID pandemic, as we've seen. So there's actually quite a lot there where it does join up and it's quite, it's actually quite helpful in some respects to have the portfolios there because then we can quickly join up the bits we need to join up and get that coordinated response going. So that's been one of the benefits there.  

 

I would also say as much as I've got different portfolios, I think we've had to work really closely as a government which we've done quite successfully, from my perspective, working at how we can join up all the different bits because certainly with COVID it's been such a big challenge. We've had to have a whole of government response and I know the ministry has been very good at working together. The Public Service has been fantastic at working together. I know the parliaments are very cooperative too, in how they've approached the situation. I think it's fair to say it's been a really good lesson on how we can all work together to actually get there. I think that spirit has also extended from what I've seen to the community sector into the disability sector too, and just the level of collaboration that's been there. And the willingness of everybody to say, Okay, we've got this unique problem that we don't necessarily have an answer to, or we haven't been able to plan for, but let's all work together very quickly to get a response. And it's been quiet, quite encouraging and quite inspiring. 

 

Rob   

So, in terms of the ACT COVID-19 Disability Strategy, it came out last month on the 18th. What was the thinking about releasing that strategy? What's the intention of the strategy? And what are some of the important points you really would want to emphasize coming through that strategy?  

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, so the disability strategy, the ACT COVID-19 Disability Strategy was something that I specifically asked the Office for Disability to put together because we were hearing, and I was hearing myself, from a lot of people living with a disability who were incredibly concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic, the health implications, the implications to how they would go about their daily routines and their daily lives. And wanted that extra reassurance that their particular needs were being thought about and considered in the response that the government was doing.  

 

So the strategy is, we were always going to as a government be going out and supporting everyone as best we could, and the strategy for us is a way to make sure that everyone who's living with a disability knows that the government is thinking about the impacts to them, and is responding to the impact of that of people with a disability of finding from COVID. So that was the intent behind putting out a specific disability strategy. It was really good in that it gave us an opportunity to work with people within disability, with advocates, with peak organizations within the sector, to make sure that everything we were hearing got incorporated in. So I'm pretty confident that the document we have put together, that the priorities that are listed in the strategy, really do go to meeting those needs that people with a disability have identified, and hopefully give them a lot more confidence that as we move through this pandemic, and as we move through the recovery of the pandemic, that the needs of people with disability will continue to be front and center within the government response.  

 

Rob 

There's a lot of communication that's been happening with individuals with disability as well as the community sector. I know that when it comes to kind of rolling out support, whether it's direct support or whether it's financial support, government very understandably uses what's available. So, whether it's the community sector organizations, or the NDIA, the National Disability Insurance Agency. But we know there are a number of people with disability in our community who aren't connected. Some don't have an NDIS package. There are people out in our community who have undiagnosed mental health conditions, people living rough on the streets, people with experiences of trauma who just simply don't want to have anything to do with anybody who looks official. How have we been able to connect with those people particularly and the experience that they are having at this time?  

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, it's a really good question. Because I think it's fair to say that as we've moved through the pandemic, people who wouldn't necessarily always consider themselves to be people who need that support, seeking out that support, and in a lot of the areas you've already said, particularly when mental health is a key critical issue. So what we've done as a government is we did have a community support package that we put out after the crisis response to the pandemic in the very early days and that went to providing a lot more support for mental health organizations because they were seeing an increase in demand for their services. We did some work with some homelessness and housing providers, so making sure that people who were sleeping rough that we had enough people to support outreach to them, so that we could go to people who were sleeping rough and have had a bit of a chat.  

 

We've put a lot of funding into domestic and family violence services, because we have seen unfortunately in other countries that went into isolation, that there has been an increase in the need to support people because of domestic and family violence.  

 

We've put in the Canberra Relief Network, the CRN as we call it, which is a really good initiative, a collaborative initiative for lots of community partners, to come together to provide food relief to Canberrans, and this was a particular one that we did because we were seeing very early on, that it wasn't necessarily easy to get toilet paper or other supplies from the supermarket. But we're also finding that it was quite difficult for our communities and partners actually get a supply of food to provide to people who needed it. We also had a lot of people who were starting to say I've never needed help getting food before, but now I do. And that could be for a range of reasons, all associated with COVID. So it could have been a case of someone who was living with a disability who didn't feel comfortable going out to the supermarket, because you come into contact with so many more people, and they didn't want to take that risk. We also heard that from a lot of elderly people as well, but they just wanted to be very cautious and didn't want to be going out in large crowds. But we wanted to make sure that everyone's still fed, because it's absolutely vital for us, so we put together the CRN, and anyone can call up if they are being impacted by COVID, and then not being able to get their groceries, then we can help them with that. So, there's the provision there to make sure that we're getting those basics out to people.  

 

So, we've looked at those in the crisis response on those initiatives and we'll continue to look at those and monitor how the demand for services is going. And the other part too, that's been really critical to this, is sending out that message that the government wants to support you, the community wants to support you, and I think that's been one of the really encouraging things around this, is the level of people who got out and said, “actually no, we want to help out” and you're seeing these local groups pop up, they would drop a flyer in a letter book, maybe you need help with something, let us know. And there's a lot of really good will there, which I think is probably seen in other places, but I think it’s pretty special to Canberra, and a sign of how strong our community is. We really wanted to, as a government, reinforce that we are here to support everyone, and the community is here to support you, and that there's nothing wrong in asking for a bit of support if you do need it.  

 

Rob 

Absolutely, with our podcasts, we will probably put in some contact details for those extra services that are available right now, because it's so important for people to be aware of what help is available and, as you say, there's nothing wrong with asking for help when we do need it.  

 

With the strategy, reading through the strategy, one particular area that was highlighted as being an area of concern for people with disability and their supporters was the local stock and availability of personal protective equipment. So, gloves and masks, those things that make it safe to support people. How's the ACT positioned now in terms of having a supply of personal protective equipment ready and available for the community? 

 

 

Minister Orr   

So this has been a really key component of the COVID-19 disability strategy that we've put out, is addressing the concern around access to PPE, because we know, particularly at the beginning, when there was a lot of pressure on supplies of personal protective equipment, that it was very difficult for individuals and even organizations and even governments to get a supply going. So this is one of the really critical and significant parts of the strategy, that the Office for Disability worked quite extensively on, to make sure that the ACT Government has a supply of PPE that we can provide to people who need it. Now that is informed by health advice, but it's there to make sure that if needed people can access it. So it might be a case of, if you have a support worker coming into your house, and you need to get a stock of PPE, you can't get it otherwise, there is a place where you can go to make a request for that PPE. And I can tell you now that it's still available, and you could still log on and just complete an online form. The request goes through, it's on the ACT Government COVID-19 website, or you can email the Community Services Directorate at CSDPPE@act.gov.au. And then you can make that request. And again, it's quite a broad scheme we havn't put a lot of requirements on it,  it is informed by health advice. But it is open to individuals as well as organizations which makes it quite different to other schemes and allows for people to make those requests so that we know that people, when they need the PPE, can have access to them.  

 

Rob  

In terms of both local, state, territory and national government responses, one of the striking things in our response nationally and locally has been the collaborative approach to getting policies in place and having a cohesive response to COVID-19. I'm intrigued, in terms of the disability portfolio, was that collaboration with other states and federally, was that happening in the disability world as well as with the premiers and territory leaders?  

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, it's definitely been an area where there has been a collaborative approach. So, I sit on the COAG Disability Reform Council, and that has other ministers in the states and territories for disability also sit on that particular council along with the Federal Minister. And that's been a good avenue for us. We've been meeting once a month, and that's been a good avenue for us to feedback information to Minister Roberts, particularly around the NDIS and how some of the issues around that, from the service provision, to making sure that people who did have packages could have the flexibility to adapt that package to the COVID response. That was a way that the state and territory ministers could feed back to the Commonwealth about what they needed to see happen. It was also quite good, because that gave us an avenue to also speak with Minister Rousten, who has disability policy on her portfolio at the federal level, so we provide a lot of information to her as well, from what we were hearing.  

 

There was also a lot of collaboration between the national peak advocacy groups and the local advocacy groups as well. So really good consistent advocacy on their behalf that went to not just the states and territories, but also the federal government so we could start to get that joined-up response and making sure that all the bits were coming together because it is a policy area that happens at different levels of government. So, it is important that we're all talking to each other. And I think it's also fair to say that we've seen quite a few good things come out of that. There was the Australian Government's national management and operation plan for COVID-19, for people with disability. So that one, that one is fair to say that that particular policy and that particular approach was a direct result of the advocacy of a lot of people at various different levels, from different organizations and from different governments to make sure that there was a specific health response that considered the needs of people with disabilities should they be entering the health system during COVID-19. So that one's been done through the health stream, but it had the support of the disability ministers and we provided input into that as well, so that we could get full perspective there, making sure that there was a good health response.  

 

 

Rob 

With the policy that rolled out over the past six months, we know that social isolation has a very strong connection and relationship with vulnerability or increased vulnerability. Of course, we saw coming out of Adelaide the terrible story of Anne Marie Smith, who died really from circumstances of neglect. How challenging has it been to get the balance right between the health benefits of people staying at home, up against the difficulty that people have with reduced access to other people, whether it's family or friends or official visitors, having that limitation of people who can step into a situation and say, "This isn't okay, this person needs to be treated better". How hard has it been to get the balance right between that health benefit, but then the detrimental possibility of social isolation? 

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, it's a really good question. It's a question that I ask myself as a minister and I think all the other ministers would also say that they've been very cognizant of that throughout this whole thing to us, because we do need to continue to balance out the need to protect everyone from the health pandemic as best we can and response to the challenges of that, but also realize that there is impacts from the health response that will have other effects on people that we also need to respond to, and isolation has definitely been a big, big part of that for the whole community. I know people with a disability have, you know, we have heard from them quite a lot. You know, in a lot of respects, this is what they live like on a day to day basis. And so it's actually been quite eye opening for people who haven't been living that way to see what it is some of the challenges of people living with a disability will face in their day to day normal. And I think that's been a really good learning opportunity for us to start to look at how we can better open up our community for everyone to participate. So, I think that there is a there is a silver lining there. I think also getting back to looking at what we do while people are in isolation and particularly we've seen some of the cases we've seen coming out like Anne Marie Smith, one that you've mentioned, making sure that we have, we do have the Official Visitors Scheme in the ACT, we've worked quite closely with our official visitors to make sure that they can adapt their services so that they're still doing check-ins on people, that they've got access to PPE, so that they can go do visits, they absolutely need to. Making sure that the community knows that they can report things if they need to. And that's where it's really good to have that trusted government response and know where you can go to make those reports. Making sure that people have got the ability to advocate, and part of the disability strategy that we put out in the ACT for COVID-19 is extra funding to the advocacy  groups to make sure that they can take on extra cases and they can actually help people particularly through the health system, if they need that assistance advocating to make sure that their rights are met. 

 

Rob   

I noticed that it was only last week that your announcement came out about the funding for advocacy services, specifically in health settings. So, is there a particular idea around what advocacy in the health settings would look like, what's the intention there? 

 

Minister Orr   

So that's specifically to focus on where people might need assistance moving through the health system, particularly where their service delivery has been changed or affected because of COVID-19 and the restrictions that have had to be put on there. So there for example, we've seen a lot more telehealth being used, which is which is really fantastic in some accounts. Some people said it's fantastic, now you don't have to go to the doctors. If you're wanting to isolate because you are feeling more susceptible to illness, then it gives you an avenue to actually access your medical professionals and to actually still see them. But it's also an example where there are other flow on effects from using telehealth that you might not necessarily be used to it or you might not necessarily have access to IT equipment. So that's where things come into you can contact advocacy groups and actually say, Well, how can I access these services? How can I make sure that my health needs are being met? So that's one practical example of how it could work. Another example would be, if you felt that you weren't getting the advice you needed to start getting assistance to go find that advice and knowing where to go to, given it's not as easy as heading up to the hospital all the time. 

 

Rob   

I was talking to Mary Sayers who's the CEO of  Children and Young People with Disability. So, in our last podcast, I was talking to her about the report "more than isolated". One of the points that she really brought home, because they sent out a national survey to young people and children with disability and their families, and one point that that really came out from that survey and in their report is the variability in how people have found things like telehealth and particularly education, that for some people with disability, telehealth and online education worked really well. But for others, it was kind of almost impossible to negotiate with these things. What learnings have we kind of taken from, from our experience? How can we fine tune our future responses from what we've learned with that, in terms of that variability of how people find a sudden change? 

 

Minister Orr   

Yeah, look, I think most people have been really good at taking their stride to adapt to what we've had to do as part of the pandemic. I think we've certainly put in place as much as we can as a government to make sure that everyone's supportive particularly through our moving to distance education and online learning. We did do quite a lot, and I had a number of chats with the education minister, to make sure that people with a disability still continued to have access to the education in a way that enables them to continue learning, to making sure that everyone is still supported. So whether that was at home or whether there was a bit of extra support there that came through assistance in the home, or whether it was a case, or we found a way for people to continue to come to a physical school, because they needed that extra support, and online learning just wasn't going to work for them. So, there was a lot of options there that we were able to provide to try and find that the best fit for people so that particularly our students could continue their education at this point in time.  

 

There's also been quite a lot, and I use quite a bit in the conversations I have with the sector, is in everyone being forced, I guess, for lack of a better word to find new ways of doing business? There's actually been some pretty interesting innovations, and quite a few people say to me, oh, we actually quite like this way. So instead of going back to the way things were, we're going to keep the best of both options, the pre-Covid and the post-Covid, and that we're going to take those forward. So I'm quite keen to actually start getting ideas from the sector as to what those things are and how we can perhaps share those learnings more widely. Because you know, as hard as it's been, we can get some good out of this. I think doing it makes it that little bit more worthwhile. 

 

Rob   

It has been an amazing time of rapid adaptation. It's kind of being quite striking and impressive. In coming back to the “More than Isolated” report, from Children and Young People with Disability, one of the points that was fed back through the survey was that more than half of the respondents indicated a decline in mental health. And I know with my own organization, Advocacy for Inclusion, we had a little local ACT survey, and it had similar results. There were significant concerns about mental health impact and social isolation. In terms of our rebuilding, we still have Covid-19, but we are looking towards a period of rebuilding our communities and getting back to a more normal life. How is our local recovery plan going to address the mental health impact of COVID-19 over these past six months? And also, the residual trauma that people may well be experiencing in these really drastic changing circumstances? 

 

Minister Orr   

Yes. I've recently launched the Canberra Recovery Roadmap, which is the government's response to how we start to move into recovery because we are in a bit of a transition at the moment, we've done really well in responding to the initial crisis. And we're now in a position where we have done so well, where we're in quite a good position but the threats not quite gone, it's still there. We still have to be diligent around making sure that we don't see a relapse. So, we're currently in a transitioning phase but we're looking at how we can support people as we move out of isolation. And as we move into what will be, I guess, our new normal as a way to say it, you know, getting back to our lives, connecting with our neighbors, with our families, with our friends, getting back to doing the activities we enjoy doing. We're going to school, accessing more services, the way we usually would but doing all of those in a way with additional hygiene measures, so that we're still keeping ourselves safe from any potential threat from COVID-19.  

 

So what the government has acknowledged is that it's not going to be a small task or short term task, and that we are very committed to making sure, as we move through the recovery, we are making sure that we are looking at the needs of the community at any given point in time and that we're responding to those because I think the critical part here is we are in the unknown. We know where some of the pressures will come in and mental health is definitely one of those. But given that this has been quite a large and unprecedented social impact, we can't predict everything that's going to come. As we recover though, we can't predict everyone who's going to be impacted or how they're going to be impacted. So what we want to focus on in the recovery is that we're working to rebuild the resilience in the community and the connections that are there, making sure that our community services have got everything they need to be supporting people. And making sure that, as we keep working with the community, we stay connected, that we get the feedback from people, we know what their needs are, so that we can put in place a response to those. So, what we're focusing on right now is looking at our resources and rebuilding that resilience and making sure that everyone gets out and gets connected. And we know that's going to be different for everybody and everyone's going to have a different level of comfort coming out of isolation. Some people will be straight out and partying away, other people will want to take it more slowly and want to be more cautious. And that's okay, everyone can go at their own pace. We will make sure that you're there to be supported. We've got our range of activities that are coming up. So we've launched the "Know your neighbor campaign" which is a really good way we're giving everyone a postcard they can go put it in their neighbor's letterbox, and introduce themselves if you don't know your neighbor. Because when I grew up, I knew everyone in my street. But unfortunately, as we've all got busier and times gone, it's not always the way. So, we're saying go introduce yourself to your neighbor, get to know each other. And then that way during this time if it does so happen that you need a bit of support, at least you know, where you can turn to close-by.  

 

We're also going to put in place some wellbeing calls just for people who are feeling detached or isolated, who might need a bit more support. They can give us a call, we can have a chat with them, provide them with connections to services if they need it. Lots of different things there to make sure that we're supporting people as we move through this transition from what's been quite a tough isolation, to getting back to something which is a bit more social because we are social creatures at the end of the day, us human beings. So, we've got those. We’ve also been doing a range of community activity packs which we've had going out so that people have a way to stay occupied and connected. So, we did a Mother's Day pack, where we gave it to kids to go out and make their mum a Mother's Day card. Really nice one there, and that one went out through lots of childcare centers. It's really it's about community partners, just to help kids, their parents have had a lot on at this point in time, but just to help kids actually continue to do that tradition of Mother's Day that we come to expect every year. We've got some others going out soon, Winter Wonderland ones, which will also highlight the important role of carers in the community, and really raising some of the profiles of the work the carers do. I think they are some of the most unsung heroes in our community. Making sure that we're building up that awareness that people have out there, that it's important to connect with each other and it's important to acknowledge the work that we do supporting each other.  

 

Specifically, for mental health we've had $4.5 million in additional funding for mental health services and support. So, some of that's going to Lifeline and a range of other groups. And we have seen an increase in the demand for those services. And we'll continue to look at how we support those services so that they can meet the demands of the community. And again, I think it really comes down to acknowledging that this is going to be a longer road to recovery. It's not going to be quick. But we are going to continue to look at the ways we need to support the community as we move through the recovery. 

 

Rob   

Overall, just looking at particularly your own experience as a Minister, as we said earlier working across a number of portfolios, what things have you learnt during the past six months that you wish you'd known before the pandemic struck? What's what are some of the key points you wish you'd known six months ago? 

 

Minister Orr   

Oh OK. I think for me, I would probably say that the pandemic and what I hadn't known that it was tough but there's also opportunities there. I think that's what I probably would have never had the ability to go back and tell myself of six months ago, this is what you should know in advance. That it would be, you know, look for the opportunities as much as anything else, because there's been a lot of ways where we have innovated, where we have worked together collaboratively, where we've really come together as a community, and it's been quite moving. And I think it's reminded us also that we've actually got a pretty good thing here in Canberra. We've got a really strong community that really wants to look out for itself. That's quite an honor to be representing that community and making sure that we're getting into maintain that, to support that, and to keep it going. So I think, yeah, I think that's what I would be reminding myself is know that you've got a good community and know that you can get stuck into the doing some pretty amazing stuff because the community will back you. 

 

Rob   

It's a pretty good solid insights to have. And you know, we are very fortunate with the community that we have. Minister Suzanne Orr, thank you very much for joining us for the podcast today and good luck with the ongoing work.  

 

Minister Orr   

Thank you very much, and thank you for the opportunity to join you on the podcast.