STAWELL - The provision of disability services in the Northern Grampians Shire was put under the microscope during a disability and carers forum in Stawell on Tuesday.
The forum, organised by the Liberals candidate for the federal seat of Mallee, Chris Crewther, was attended by a number of representatives from various disability service providers in the region, including Stawell Intertwine Services chief executive officer, Kathryn Clayton.
Northern Grampians Shire Council's chief executive officer, Justine Linley, Cr Murray Emerson and council's Team Leader of Aged and Disability Services with Northern Grampians Shire Council, Melissa Mair, were also in attendance along with community representatives.
Mr Crewther said he was delighted to be given the opportunity to hear first hand at the forum, the views and concerns of those involved in the disability services sector.
He said he was also grateful that Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield, had accepted an invitation to attend the forum on Tuesday.
Visiting Stawell at the start of his election campaign, Mr Crewther said he quickly learnt how important the provision of disability services was to the Northern Grampians.
"When I was in Stawell previously, I visited various organisations and spoke to a lot of people around the town. It really showed me how important the disability sector is in Stawell," Mr Crewther said.
"It is important that we hear what the local issues are within the sector, particularly as it is such a large industry in Stawell.
"I felt it was important that Senator Fifield attend today to hear the issues himself and to also allow the people utilising these services to hear from the Shadow Minister as to what the future plans are for the sector if the Coalition was to win government."
Senator Fifield said there had been some discussion about Department of Human Services boundary changes, which was a state government issue, but the big interest from parties in attendance related to the design of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which has bipartisan support.
"There have been concerns raised about the effect the scheme will have on disability organisations, as new service providers establish themselves," he said.
"We discussed the importance of promoting the community connections and the not for profit ethos of the existing service providers in the region. Also the importance of learning lessons in the launch site in the Barwon region. We need to ensure lessons are learnt and changes are made before the full rollout of the national scheme.
"There needs to be recognition of the unique challenges that face disability service providers in regional areas, such as the cost of transport to reach these disability service providers."
Senator Fifield said he felt the forum was an excellent way for service providers and council representatives to express their views on the new scheme.
"I think it is vitally important to meet with the people involved and hear the local issues on the ground," he said.
"I try and travel as much as I can not only through Victoria, but across the nation, to get the views of people who are on the ground, those who provide support to people with disabilities and also from the people with disabilities themselves.
"When it is fully rolled out, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will involve a $22 billion investment, so it is vitally important to get the design right."
Stawell Intertwine Services chief executive officer, Kathryn Clayton, said she welcomed the opportunity to air her concerns with both Mr Crewther and Senator Fifield and to also hear what the plans of a Coalition Government would be for the disability sector.
"The fact that these issues, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, are up for discussion is fantastic," Mrs Clayton said.
"People are talking about the new scheme, they are having conversations about it and voices are being heard which is very positive.
"It is important that consultation takes place and I welcome the fact that we have been given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the families and service providers in our region. Without the visit from Senator Fifield and Chris Crewther today, we wouldn't have had that avenue otherwise.
"The more opportunities like these that present themselves, giving us an opportunity to be heard, the better it is for us."