Feeling powerless during times of change is an all too common experience. High level decision making and big agendas can leave organisations and individuals questioning how they can meaningfully influence government policy and get a seat at the table. The bigger the change, the more noise they need to cut through and timing is everything.
The agreement for the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Western Australia was signed on the eve of writs being issued to send WA to the polls on March 11. People with disability and disability service providers in Western Australia are still digesting approximately 100 pages of schedules and supporting information to the agreement as WA waits to vote, waits for parliament to resume and waits for new legislation. Many people and organisations wanting to be involved in the operational planning process for the WA NDIS. They will need to be consistent and tenacious and utilise every opportunity to influence.
The state election represents some opportunities to get your view across by responding publicly to policy announcements and election commitments made by during the campaign. That means forums, comments on media stories, media statements, blogs, social media and letters to editors. You can also mobilise and campaign for your preferred party/candidates and vote on March 11. After that, it’s more like business as usual.
Parliament and politics
The most common way to build influence is to build relationships. We’ve all heard the saying ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’. Parliament will typically resume within a few weeks of the election result being known. Once a cabinet is announced, individuals and organisations seeking to influence public policy typically start to correspond with the Disability Services Minister and Opposition shadow spokesperson. The WA NDIS bilateral agreement identifies that high level approvals will be required for a WA NDIS operational plan. The plan will at the very least include
- Transition planning
- ICT, data and reporting
- Mainstream intersects
- Aged care interface and presumably mental health and health
- Quality and safeguarding
- Funding administration
After initial contact through correspondence, request a meeting and, given the chance, raise policy challenges directly in a respectful, logical and well thought out way. The operational plan may also inform the CEO agreement between the Director General of the new WA NDIS and the Minister.
Another opportunity to have input is the state budget process. Pre-budget submissions are usually provided by peak bodies and interested parties towards the end of the year ahead of a State Budget in May. As it is an election year, there may be a mini budget in May followed by a full budget a few months later, particularly if there is a change of government. It extends the timeframe for pre-budget submissions. While acknowledging the funding commitment within the bilateral agreement, the transition years provide a time limited window for investment in disability (outside of individualised funding packages for direct services). Election years mean election commitments but any pitch would need to be very swift and completely compelling at this late stage. Presenting a united front on challenges common to people using services as well as organisations providing services, might gain more traction.
Federal legislation and state legislation will be amended to move the Western Australia from trials to transition. In the longer term, there will be new legislation which the Disability Services Commission expects will take 18 months to finalise. Government will be required to introduce the laws to govern the WA NDIS and address any discontinued functions in the Disability Services Act. There will need to a second entity, a smaller Disability Service Commission for government provided services including supported accommodation and justice, and perhaps the National Disability Strategy. Familiarise yourself with the process and be ready to participate in any forums and consultations required for the drafting of new legislation. To influence effectively, develop a clear position and articulate it well. Be sure to provide evidence and references. Community members can also use petitions and contact their local member to raise issues in parliament.
Board and Committee membership
The bilateral agreement identifies that the new state legislation will establish a WA NDIS Authority Board and an Independent Advisory Committee. Each body will have seven members. The State will select four members of each and the Commonwealth will select the other three (Part 4, Clause 29 b, page 7). Both groups will have input into the operationalising of the WA NDIS and pose the most credible opportunity to have ongoing influence. While it remains to be seen whether there will be an open expression of interest process, be ready to put forward viable candidates for Board and Committee positions. Members will be people with lived experience or service experience and representatives who understand data, financials and business (Part 4, Clause 29 a, page 7). The Disability Services Commission has put information on its website referring to possible sub-committees and it’s reasonable to expect people with disability will be included in any and all of them. Consider this:
- Who in your organisation might meet the criteria?
- What do they have to offer?
- What’s their experience/expertise?
- Are they knowledgeable, reasonable and respected?
- Can they extend their sphere of influence?
The bilateral agreement and supporting information commit to co-development conversations in coming months. The Disability Services Commission website points to information sessions ahead of a conference on the WA NDIS in May. Join in. Asking questions in public forums can prompt policy makers to consider different points of view. Key themes that emerge across a range of engagement channels, it may influence which topics make it onto the conference agenda. You could also consider if you might raise ideas with the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability or advocacy organisations. The information released with the bilateral agreement makes reference to use of existing mechanisms. On occasion, formal consultation processes may also be used to problem solve or gather feedback on a particular issue. These forums are an invitation to be heard on a particular matter.
Communities of interest or practice
Peak bodies, advocates and activists are constantly seeking to engage on key issues. If you like what they do and want to get your views across through them, volunteer in their organisations and be active in supporting their business. Bare minimum you can follow them online or subscribe for e news.
These days, government has at least a passing interest for the water cooler discussions routinely occurring in groups online. Where large numbers of people gather or a campaign is being promoted, there is even greater scrutiny. Government can monitor social media in the same way it monitors the news media. Broadcasting your views and lobbying for a cause online can amplify your voice and make sure your view is at least heard if not directly responded to.
Be proactive in getting to know journalists whose work you respect. Call the journalist and speak to them about issues that are important to you but only when you can also meet the journalist’s needs to report the news. That means if you have an event, an issue or any other activity that is happening soon and relevant to many, you are more likely to get a journalist’s attention. Write a media statement and release it online as well as to news outlets. Talk shows occur across the day and always looking for different stories and talent. If you can’t get in the news, get on the airwaves by calling program producers. If you have a personal story of triumph or tragedy and are prepared to leverage it for a cause and pay the price with your privacy, journalists also respond to human interest stories at the extremes of our experience. Letters to the editor in state and local papers continue to be effective in getting your point across.
Be organised, be articulate, be heard!