By the time this milestone was reached, Victoria was weeks into its second wave of COVID-19, driven by community transmission that would impact heavily on healthcare setting such as hospitals and aged care homes, with disability services also affected.
“There was some governance in place [before that], but we escalated that once the numbers started to escalate more significantly in the disability sector,” Ms Rule said.
The disability rapid response group formalised daily discussions between the Commonwealth and the Victorian government about the state’s COVID-19 crisis and how it was impacting NDIS recipients and workers, along with what responses were needed to protect them.
The revelation comes after The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Thursday revealed the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission issued only one infringement against a disability provider in the past two years, despite receiving 8000 complaints.
The commission told the hearing about 2000 of these complaints were redirected to other agencies.
Labor’s NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten slammed the department’s handling of the disability sector during the pandemic.
“What an insult that this government took until COVID in Victoria was near its peak of 700 cases before putting a formal plan in place,” he said.
NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said the Morrison government had “commenced planning for issues of disability when COVID started striking in February” and the joint arrangements with the Victorian government that began in August were in addition to “the ongoing, coordinated Commonwealth response”.
“Disability ministers from around the country gathered on 18 March, and we’ve gathered four times together to ensure the needs of people with disability throughout the pandemic are considered and responded to quickly,” Mr Robert said.
The “first version” of the government’s operational plan for people with disability was released on 18 April, he said.
NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission Registrar Samantha Taylor told the Senate hearing on Thursday the commission had reduced site visits “to make sure we were limiting exposure for people with a disability during peak periods of the pandemic”.
On Thursday, the total number of NDIS recipients to have been infected with COVID-19 stood at 154 – all of them in Victoria – including 12 active cases, along with 200 workers, eight of whom are still active cases.
Ms Rule said the department was “actively monitoring every case and making sure providers are doing the right thing”.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.