Disability services

This reference was received in August 1995. The final report for this inquiry was the third in a series of inquiries into Acts administered by the Department of Health and Family Services.

The final report (ALRC Report 79) provides a detailed analysis of the Disability Services Act 1986 (Cth). The Commission identified a number of flaws in the existing system and concluded that the Disability Services Act failed to provide a comprehensive legal framework for disability services. The report identified a lack of national coordination in the administration of disability services. Important aspects of disability services were scattered across various regulations, meaning that the Act itself did not state what rights disabled people had, what quality of service they were entitled to expect, the conditions on which funding was given or how the provisions of the Act could be enforced. As a result, the Act only provided a way of distributing funding to agencies.

The other reports in the series, Child Care for Kids (ALRC Report 70) and The Coming of Age (ALRC Report 72) were tabled in federal Parliament in 1994 and 1995 respectively.

Key recommendations

  • The 1986 Act should be replaced with new Commonwealth disability services legislation. This new legislation should be grounded in a recognition of the rights of people with disabilities and the need for achievement of high quality services, rather than simply the provision of funds to service providers.

  • The Commission made the following recommendations for the new legislation:
    • The legislation should include a statement of principles in the legislation and an explanation of how those principles should be available to people regardless of the nature of their disability.
    • The new legislation should aim to make access to services as fair as possible within the budget available. This could be achieved by:
      • improving the collection of data about all services, giving planners effective feedback; and
      • making the needs of the disabled person the main concern when assessing access to support services
    • The new legislation should ensure that government agencies and other services providers are answerable to consumers. This should be achieved by:
      • providing guidelines for decision-making that focus attention on the importance of respecting the rights and needs of people with a disability;
      • clearly setting out the criteria that are used in making funding and planning decisions so that these decisions are readily understood and are open to legal challenge;
      • creating a legal process that can be used by people to enforce their rights;
      • providing greater national coordination of disability services by establishing a national ‘Office on the Equal Status of People with a Disability’ to coordinate services and policy development.
  • Finally, an agency’s funding should be linked to clear accountability requirements.


No formal response has been made to ALRC Report 79, and the Disability Services Act 1986 (Cth) remains in operation with only minor changes since it was reviewed by the ALRC.

The Disability Services Amendment (Improved Quality Assurance) Act 2002 introduced an improved quality assurance system for disability employment and rehabilitation services. The new system requires all service providers to meet the Disability Service Standards and specified key performance indicators in order to be accredited and receive funding from the Australian Government. A transparent complaints system is one component of the new measures. Compliance is assessed by an independent audit team which includes a person with a disability (rather than self-assessment as under the previous system). These changes are consistent with a number of recommendations on quality and complaints made in ALRC 79.

In 2000 the Australian Government released its revised Commonwealth Disability Strategy, which applies only to services provided by Australian Government agencies. The revised approach includes concepts of inclusion and equality as advocated in ALRC 79 and established the Office of Disability Policy within the Department of Family and Community Services. This has not, however, altered the way in which funding of other services is administered.

Continuing issues

In 1999 the NSW Law Reform Commission completed its report, A Review of the Disability Services Act 1993 (NSW) (Report 91) – a summary of the report is also available. The NSW Act was based on the Disability Services Act 1986 (Cth), and was part of a scheme to have a uniform national legislative framework for the delivery of services to people with disabilities.

Although the NSWLRC report was generally more positive about the state of disability services in NSW, it adopted an approach to reform similar to that advocated in ALRC Report 79