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Public hearing 21 - The experience of people with disability engaging with Disability Employment Services, Virtual - Day 3

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CHAIR: Good morning everyone, and welcome to this, the third and last day of this hearing, hearing number 21. We shall commence with the Acknowledgment of Country, and I ask Commissioner Mason to make the Acknowledgment of Country this morning. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Chair.  We acknowledge the First Nations people as the original inhabitants of the lands on which this hearing is sitting. Nganana tjukarurungku kalkuni Anangu kuwaripa tjara nyinantja tjuta, ngura nyangangka. We recognise Meanjin, Brisbane. Nganana ngurkantananyi ngura Meeanjin-nga Brisbane-ta. We recognise the country north and south of the Brisbane River as the home of both the Turrbul and Jagera nations. Nganana ngurkantananyi karu panya Brisbane River-nya alintjara munu ulparira Anangu nguraritja tjuta nyinantja munu kuwari nyinanyi Turrbul-nga munu Jagera-nya. And we pay respect to the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation. Their land is where the city of Sydney is now located. And also pay respect to the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation where the city of Melbourne is now located. We pay deep respects to all Elders past, present and future, and especially Elders, parents and young people with disability. Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Commissioner Mason. Yes, Ms Dowsett. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. I want to begin this morning with the tender of two documents from yesterday, and then I will briefly identify who the witnesses are today and then we will be commencing. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: I tender the photograph that was annexure MT 1 to the statement of Mr Ting. It will be Exhibit Number 21.2.

CHAIR: Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And I tender the photograph that was exhibit number MT 5 to the statement of Mr Ting. It will be Exhibit 21.3. 

CHAIR: Both of those photographs can be admitted into evidence and given the exhibit numbers that Ms Dowsett has referred to.



MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. The first witness this morning will be Ms Romero, who is the Managing Director of the Arriba Group. She will be followed later today by Ms Renee Thornton, who is currently the General Manager of AimBig but was at the time of the case study the relevant State Manager. Following those witnesses from AimBig, you will hear from Mr Rick Kane and from   and, sorry, from Ms Debbie Mitchell from the Department 

CHAIR: All right, thank you.  We look as though we are going to have quite a full day one way or other. Ms Romero, thank you for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence.  I understand that you have been affirmed or sworn, as the case may be, before appearing so that we don't need to have that formality. I will now ask Ms Dowsett to ask you some questions. Thank you very much. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Ms Romero. You have provided two statements to the Royal Commission? 


MS DOWSETT: So the first statement is dated 28 January 2022, and that is located in Hearing Bundle B at tab 27? 


MS DOWSETT: And have you had an opportunity to review that statement in preparation for giving evidence today? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I have. 

MS DOWSETT: And the contents of the statement are true and correct? 


MS DOWSETT: And you have also provided a supplementary statement dated 18 February 2022? 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And that statement appears in Hearing Bundle B at tab 28? 


MS DOWSETT:  And have you had an opportunity to review that statement in preparation for giving evidence today? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I have. 

MS DOWSETT: And the contents of that statement are true and correct? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, they are. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, you heard me say in   by way of opening to the Chair that you are the Managing Director of the Arriba Group. But would you like to explain firstly what the Arriba Group is and what your role is? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. The Arriba Group is the holding name, and in terms of clarity from the other day, it was previously known as RM Holdings. It has three companies. Rehab Management, AimBig, and LiveBig. 

MS DOWSETT: And you are the Director of each of those subsidiaries? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. 

MS DOWSETT: And when you referred to Rehab Management as one of the subsidiary companies, that's Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd? 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: The company that was the employer of Mzia? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

CHAIR: Ms Romero, may we take it that you are the Sole Director of each of the companies that you have mentioned? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: And you are also the Chief Executive Officer of the Arriba Group? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. 

MS DOWSETT: And are you the Sole Director of that Group as well? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. 

MS DOWSETT: So you are the person in this corporate structure with ultimate responsibility? 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And so that is for AimBig as a DES provider?

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. 

MS DOWSETT: And Rehab Management, who was, as I have just noted, Mzia's employer. 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Did you ever meet Mzia? 

MS ROMERO: No, I did not. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you recall signing the Letter of Offer offering her employment with AimBig? 

MS ROMERO: That letter was given to her by our P&C team. 

MS DOWSETT: My question was, do you recall signing it? 

MS ROMERO: No, I don't recall signing it. 

MS DOWSETT: Have you seen the letter? 

MS ROMERO: The letter, as I know, there was an admin error from our P&C team, and I think that's why it was confusing, in that the Letter of Offer was done by AimBig when it should have been Rehab Management. So that caused confusion. It was an administration error from our P&C team back then. 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Romero, have you seen the letter? 

MS ROMERO: I've seen it now, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So it is in Hearing Bundle A at tab 3, Commissioners. Ms Romero, is that your signature?

MS ROMERO: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: So when you said just a moment ago, "I've seen it now", you must also have seen it on 29 April 2019? 


MS DOWSETT: And you say this is an admin error? 

MS ROMERO: Well, the admin error was done by P&C in that instead of doing the Letter of Offer from Rehab Management, it was done on our AimBig letterhead. 

MS DOWSETT: But you read it before you signed it? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I did. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And, again, the P&C Rehab Management are people who are in a company that you're ultimately responsible for? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: We have had in evidence before this Royal Commission a number of policies and procedures from Rehab Management and AimBig. Have you been following the evidence? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I have. 

MS DOWSETT: So you would be aware that we have in evidence Rehab Management's Employee Handbook? 


MS DOWSETT:  And we have in evidence the AimBig Feedback Policy for its DES participants? 


MS DOWSETT: And we have in evidence an Arriba document through which DES clients can provide feedback and make complaints? 


MS DOWSETT: And would you agree that under each of those policies and practices for Arriba, Rehab Management and AimBig, there is a process by which complaints can be escalated through management? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: I put it to you that way because I can take you to each of the documents and step it out, if you would like me to do that, but I wanted to test if you would accept the general proposition. That is fair, you agree? 

MS ROMERO: I would like to sight those documents again, if that's okay. 

MS DOWSETT: We will start with the Employment Handbook which you'll find in Bundle D at tab 80. Tell me when you have it, please. 

MS ROMERO: We're just getting that. 

CHAIR: I think it's Volume B, isn't it? 

MS DOWSETT: I said B. 

CHAIR: Oh, you did say B.

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry, did you say B or D? 

MS DOWSETT: B, Bravo. 

MS ROMERO: Okay. B. We're having a   okay. B. Thank you. Okay. Is it MT 48? 

MS DOWSETT: It is MT 48. 

MS ROMERO: I've got it now. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: So this is the Rehab Management Employment Handbook. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: These are the processes and procedures that applied to Mzia as an employee? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And are you familiar with this document? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I am. It's been updated since then, but, yes, I am. 

MS DOWSETT: You know that Clause 18 is the Grievance Procedure? 


MS DOWSETT: And you know that Clause 23 is the Bullying and Harassment Procedure? 


MS DOWSETT: And you know that under each of those processes, an employee is able to take informal action or formal action. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Would you have expected this process to be followed in respect of Mzia as an employee if she raised a grievance about her employment? 


MS DOWSETT: Would you be able to offer any explanation about why the process would not have been followed if Mzia had raised a grievance? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, can you repeat that again, please? 

CHAIR: Do you mean why it was not followed? Is that what you mean? 

MS DOWSETT: I shall rephrase, Chair. Can you explain to the Royal Commission why the process in Clause 18 was not followed when Mzia raised grievances about her employment? 

MS ROMERO: I can't explain what happened then, but we have very clear processes and procedures and governance to ensure that when people do have some sort of grievance, whether formal or informal, that should have been managed. So I'm not sure why that happened back then. 

MS DOWSETT: You say in your statement you only became aware of Mzia's issues in employment for the purposes of preparing for this Royal Commission. 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: So I would like to understand what more it was that Mzia could do other than raise her grievance   what is the point of a process nobody follows? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object to that. There is a lot of assumptions, Chair, in that question. 

CHAIR: Yes, I do not think we can say that nobody follows at any time. So perhaps something more specific might be appropriate. Can you tell us, please, which paragraph of Ms Romero's statement you're referring to? 

MS DOWSETT: I just need to find it, Chair. 

CHAIR: That is all right.   Carry on and then you can let us know once it is located.  Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Perhaps, Ms Romero, can you assist me? Do you recall which paragraph it was in   Chair, it's paragraph 34. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: No, that is about learning more about the BusyBeans program. Ms Romero, do you recall the paragraph in which you stated you only became aware of the concerns when preparing for this Royal Commission? 

MS ROMERO: I'm just looking for it now as well. Sorry. 

CHAIR: I think we will get our OSA team with its unlimited resources to find the paragraph and let us know. I think just keep going with your questions of Ms Romero, please. 

MS DOWSETT: So, Ms Romero, you were saying that the Employment Handbook has been updated. 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: That is correct. But as at the time of Mzia's employment, the handbook, as we have in evidence in MT 48, that was the process? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And the purpose of having that Grievance Process in Clause 18 was so that employees had a mechanism to address their concerns? 


MS DOWSETT: How did you as the person with ultimate responsibility in Rehab Management ensure that the process was followed for employees generally? What steps did you take did you take to make sure this process was followed? 

CHAIR: At what time are you referring to, please? 

MS DOWSETT: In 2019. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS ROMERO: As the group CEO, I have oversight of the entire group, and I do have management structures in place to ensure that we comply and we   with policies and procedures and that we have strong governance. In Mzia's situation, we had four managers structures that should have addressed that. My expectation as the CEO is that when issues or grievances are raised, that we address those grievances and they're managed appropriately. In this incident   in this instance with Mzia, that did not occur, and it certainly wasn't escalated to senior leaders and/or myself. And that does not happen anymore. In hindsight, it should have happened, and it did not. 

CHAIR: Ms Romero, at this time, who was responsible for the program as conducted at Office 1? 

MS ROMERO: Ultimately, that would have been Terry Wilson, General Manager. 

CHAIR: And what role did Mr Ting have, as far as you understood your management structure? What role did Mr Ting have? 

MS ROMERO: Mr Ting as the Innovation Manager and Customer Engagement Manager, he was very much involved in the development and the innovation of the program at a national level. And whilst he had oversight of the program at that national level, we had another layer which included Mr Martinez at that local level. So we had Mr Martinez managing that Office 1, then we had Matthew Ting, and then we had Mr Wilson, who was the General Manager for AimBig Employment. 

CHAIR: Does that mean Mr Ting did or did not have responsibility for how the program was conducted at Office 1? 

MS ROMERO: He did have some involvement, yes. He did have responsibilities. 

CHAIR: And I have been wondering why   and I take it you have been responsible for nominating Mr Ting to give information   why was the person ultimately responsible for what went on at Office 1 not nominated as the person to give evidence? 

MS ROMERO: Because our General Manager Terry Wilson, he's no longer with the Group, with the business, and he wasn't able to attend. And Mr Ting had a lot of knowledge of the program at that operational level in that area. 

CHAIR: Mr Wilson is on leave, is he? 

MS ROMERO: No, he's resigned from our Group, from AimBig. 

CHAIR: I see. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: In answer to the Chair's questions, you referred to a layer of management that included a gentleman by the name of Mr Martinez. 


MS DOWSETT: We have not seen a reference to that name. I don't wish to correct you, but were you perhaps referring to Mr Rodrigues? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, Rodrigues. That's what I mean. Apologies. 

MS DOWSETT: So he is the 2IC to Mr Ting that we were hearing about yesterday? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, sorry, apologies. 

MS DOWSETT: And so when you said there were four   I think you said there are four levels of management that you relied upon to make sure these policies were implemented. Those are the General Manager, Mr Wilson, who has now retired but was the person at the time. Mr Ting    

MS ROMERO: Apologies, sorry, he's resigned, not retired. 

MS DOWSETT: Resigned. Sorry. Mr Ting. 

MS ROMERO: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: Mr Rodrigues. 


MS DOWSETT: And what was the fourth level? 

MS ROMERO: Well, Mr Wilson reported to Serhat Orguz, who's the Chief Operating Officer, who then reports to me. 

MS DOWSETT: So these are the people during the period of Mzia's employment who were responsible for making sure this procedure was followed? 


MS DOWSETT: Thank you. I would like to turn now to Mzia's status as a DES participant and the policies for her to provide feedback and make complaints in that capacity. So I will take you, first, to a document that is called How to Provide Feedback Guide for Clients and Stakeholders which is attachment MT 11 to Mr Ting's supplementary statement, and you will find it in Volume B at tab 26. 

CHAIR: While that is happening, I think the passage you were referring to, Ms Dowsett, is at the end of paragraph 34 of Ms Romero's statement. 

MS DOWSETT: Paragraph 37, Chair: 

"At no stage during the relevant period or prior to being served with Notices to Produce from this Commission in October 2020 was I aware of there being any issues in relation to Mzia's employment or her involvement in the BusyBeans program."

CHAIR: Yes. And that links with the last part of 34, I think. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, Chair. 

CHAIR: Yes. Have you got the document, Ms Romero? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I do. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, Mr Ting identified this document for us yesterday as a document AimBig is required to have in order to comply with the DES Grant Agreement. Do you agree with that? 

MS ROMERO: Can I please confirm, is that MT 11? 


MS ROMERO: Okay. Yes. Okay. 

MS DOWSETT: And you have that there? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I do. 

MS DOWSETT: And it is called How to Provide Feedback Guide for Clients and Stakeholders. 


MS DOWSETT: Just making sure we are all looking at the same document. 

MS ROMERO: That's okay. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: So do you agree that this is the document that you have in order to   that AimBig has in order to comply with the DES Grant Agreement? 


MS DOWSETT: And this document sets out a process for providing feedback and for the Direct Manager or Regional Manager of the relevant AimBig employee to take steps to address that feedback? 


MS DOWSETT: At the time of Mzia's   at the time Mzia was a DES participant with AimBig   so this is in 2019   who was responsible for ensuring that process was followed? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, what period was that? 

MS DOWSETT: 2019. 

MS ROMERO: Well, her Direct Manager, Mr Martinez. 

MS DOWSETT: No, this is her as a DES participant. 

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry. That would have been   well, it depends on which stage. So at   during that initial employment assessment phase, it would have been her job coach, which is identified here as CJ    


MS ROMERO: JC 1, yes. Yes. And, as we know, once the person is placed, once Mzia was placed   and she would have been managed by her post placement support officer, which is referred here as PPS    


MS ROMERO: That's right. That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: So we have heard evidence and there are documents before the Royal Commission in which Mzia complains about conflict with and harassment and intimidation from JC 1. Following this process in MT 11, if Mzia has provided that feedback to AimBig, what should have happened next? 

MS ROMERO: The matter should have been addressed. It should have been managed and potentially resolved. 

MS DOWSETT: And it should have been addressed by whom? 

MS ROMERO: In that instance, I   with the job coach, well   so in this instance with the   that should have been by her manager, Mr Martinez. 

MS DOWSETT: In his capacity as the job coach's manager.

CHAIR: I am sorry, I think   I think it is Mr Rodrigues, is it not? 

MS ROMERO: I don't know, I apologise. It's the Spanish Latin in me. I apologise. 

CHAIR: You don't need to apologise to us. You might need to apologise to Mr Rodrigues. Yes. Go on. 

MS DOWSETT: So Mr Rodrigues was responsible in his capacity as the Direct Manager of the job coach; is that what you are saying? 

MS ROMERO: No, Mr Rodrigues was Mzia's manager as an employee for   managing the program. So if there was any matters raised around Mzia's conflict, either with a DES   with an AimBig job coach and/or other people within the Group, that matter should have been addressed, and it was not. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, but I am trying to explore what she does as a DES participant. So she is   in addition to being employed by Rehab Management, you understand that she was a participant in AimBig's DES program? 


MS DOWSETT: She has rights as a participant? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, she does. 

MS DOWSETT: AimBig has obligations towards her? 


MS DOWSETT: And part of those obligations include providing her with a feedback and complaints process? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And this document represents that process? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And you are now telling this Royal Commission that when Mzia sought to avail herself of the process, the manager in her employment should have dealt with her DES participant concerns? Am I understanding you correctly? 

MS ROMERO: As a DES participant where she was placed in Rehab Management, she was getting support from   from her post placement PPSO 1. So if there was any matters that were   she was experiencing difficulties with other people as a post placement support, she would have gone to PPSO 1, and that support should have been provided. And what occurred, based on what I have read, is that that did not occur. 

MS DOWSETT: So if Mzia, as we know from the evidence she did, took her concerns to PPSO 1, what do you say should have happened next? 

MS ROMERO: What should have happened, and unfortunately it did not, is that PPSO 1 should have liaised with Mr Rodrigues and would have   should have come up with some sort of action plan to address the concerns. And   

MS DOWSETT: Mr Martinez   sorry, now I am doing it. You are right, Mr Rodrigues. 

CHAIR: No, no. Ms Romero has got it right this time. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, apologies. So why should PPSO 1 have spoken with Mr Rodrigues about support concerns that Mzia had? 

MS ROMERO: Because that's her job as a post placement support consultant. 

MS DOWSETT: But Mzia's concerns that we're exploring now are her concerns as a DES participant. 

MS ROMERO: That's right. So the post placement support consultant supports Mzia from a DES participant perspective, and the purpose of having post placement support is to support them in host employer, regardless of who they are. Mzia happened to be employed by Rehab Management, which is a related entity, but they're two very separate. So in the event there's complaints, issues or conflict, as a DES participant, Mzia would have addressed that with post placement support consultant, PPSO 1. 

PPSO 1 should have spoken to Mr Rodrigues and there should have been some sort of resolution and action plans to address those concerns. Unfortunately, in Mzia's incident   instance, that did not occur. 

CHAIR: Who employed Mr Rodrigues? 


CHAIR: Who employed PPSO 1? 


CHAIR: And, at this time, Mzia had a dual capacity, as it were: She was a DES participant and she was an employee of Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

CHAIR: Right. Okay. Carry on. 

MS DOWSETT: Within the internal structure of AimBig, is there any difference in hierarchy between PPSO 1 and Mr Rodrigues? Specifically, is he more senior to   is he senior to PPSO 1? 

MS ROMERO: There are just different departments. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So you would see no difficulty in PPSO 1 going to Mr Rodrigues and saying, "Mzia has these concerns. We need to address them"? 

MS ROMERO: No concerns. 

MS DOWSETT: Now, documents before the Royal Commission show that Mzia was expressing concern about the level of support that she was receiving. There are emails, particularly towards the end of 2019 and in February 2020, in which Mzia is saying she's not getting the support   the post placement support   that she needs. Following, again, the process provided for in AimBig's procedure, what should have happened with those complaints? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, which complaints are you referring to?

MS DOWSETT: Well, for example, her emails to the Regional Manager around 14 February 2020. 

CHAIR: Well, you better direct Ms Romero's attention to those emails. It's a little difficult if you don't provide the document. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes. I had understood that she was aware of them, but I will go there. Perhaps if I can take you to tender   Hearing Bundle Volume D. 


MS DOWSETT: Tab 40. 

MS ROMERO: D, tab 40. 

MS DOWSETT: So this is an email from Mzia to Terry Wilson. Copied to Matthew Ting. Do you have that? 

MS ROMERO: No, I don't yet. Sorry. Yes. I have it now. 

MS DOWSETT: So it is an email dated 21 February 2020 at 7.02. That is what we're looking at? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: And just to confirm, Mr Wilson was the person you identified before as the one with ultimate responsibility about   sorry, he is the General Manager at the time. Is that correct? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT:  Right.  And in this email, if you go to the second page, the final full paragraph on the second page reads:

"The best support that I have requested several times and not received is training and development relevant to my employment. My skills are self taught or on the job experience."

And then she talks about her experience:

"The only qualifications I have are FSS  " 

Which is Food Safety Supervisor   

"And RSA  " 

Responsible Service of Alcohol: 

"Training for Microsoft would be a great start."

And then over on to the next page, the first full paragraph begins with:

"I enjoyed working  "

Do have you that paragraph? 


MS DOWSETT: And she concludes that paragraph by saying:

"It's very frustrating and unsupported to my ADHD."

Now, I take it that you have seen this email for the purposes of preparing for the Royal Commission? 


MS DOWSETT: But you did not see it in February 2020? 

MS ROMERO: No, I wasn't CC’ed on it. 

MS DOWSETT: No, I can see you weren't CC’ed on it. Did anyone forward it to you? 


MS DOWSETT: Do you agree that this is Mzia, a DES participant, expressing concern about the level of support provided to her? 

MS ROMERO: I can see based on the facts that I guess it appears as though she wanted more support at the time. 

MS DOWSETT: What should have happened next? 

MS ROMERO: In this instance? 


MS ROMERO: Terry Wilson should have addressed it, and he did not. 

MS DOWSETT: Are we to understand from your evidence that none of these concerns were ever escalated to you? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: No one ever spoke to you about Mzia, an employee, or Mzia, a DES participant, writing these kinds of complaints? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Are they the kinds of things you would expect to be brought to your attention during your regular briefings with your senior leadership team? 

MS ROMERO: Absolutely. 

MS DOWSETT: Does Ms   did   at the time, did Mr Wilson form part of that senior leadership team? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, he did. 

MS DOWSETT: Did Mr Ting form part of that senior leadership team? 

MS ROMERO: No, he didn't. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. Excuse me one moment. 

CHAIR: Ms Romero, I just want to ask a couple of questions about the corporate structure. 


CHAIR: As I understand it, the original appointment of a DES provider within the Arriba Group was Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd, and then, at a later stage, the contractual entitlements were novated to AimBig. Is that right? 

MS ROMERO: That's correct. 

CHAIR: Why was that done? 

MS ROMERO: It was done on the basis that I felt back then that the word "rehab management", the word "rehab" was not a suitable word to have when you're dealing with a DES participant and you're trying to find them suitable, sustainable employment. The word "rehab" has a negative   not a negative but the connotation of rehabbing when you're not necessarily rehabbing, per se, but more providing Disability Employment Services. So we decided to change the name. 

CHAIR: Well, you didn't just change the name. You novated the agreement to a different company within the group. 

MS ROMERO: That's right. 

CHAIR: But that was for the purpose of changing the name? 

MS ROMERO: Well, the change in the name and having it as a separate entity to separate both companies, yes. 

CHAIR: And when the employment contract that we have been referring to for Mzia was entered into, what is the rationale for her being an employee of Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd? 

MS ROMERO: The rationale for that is because when we commenced our internal baristas   we have one in head office who's been working with us since 2018, BB 2, and he was serving   he was being trained and having real life work experience providing work to people in Rehab Management offices. So we basically decided to employ them under Rehab Management because it was a bigger company with a   we could afford to do that. 

CHAIR: And were other DES participants also employed by Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd, to your knowledge? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. Currently we have almost 10 people across different parts of the business, and they're ex DES participants across Quality Assurance, Administration, internal barristas, and some of which have been employed with us since 2018. 

CHAIR: What is the role of AimBig Pty Ltd, the third of the subsidiary companies, as I understand it? What is its role? 

MS ROMERO: What   AimBig's role? 

CHAIR: Not AimBig Employment Pty Ltd, AimBig Pty Ltd.  There's a third company, isn't there, that is a subsidiary of Arriba. There is AimBig Employment Pty Ltd, Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd and a third company. 

MS ROMERO: LiveBig, I think.

CHAIR: It is LiveBig. I thought Live was a misprint for Aim in the version I have got. What is the role of LiveBig Pty Ltd? 

MS ROMERO: No, that   so LiveBig is a another company and we specialise in providing therapy services to people under the NDIA Scheme and also to different   it's more therapy type services. 

CHAIR: The senior management of the Group is employed by which company? Or are the employment contracts with different companies depending upon the responsibilities of senior management? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. So   exactly. So if you have a GM for Rehab Management that person is employed under Rehab Management. If you have them across the Group   for example, we've got various chiefs, see   Chief People Officer, Chief Financial Officer and so forth, and they're employed under the Arriba Group name. 

CHAIR: You mean they are employed under the Arriba Group Pty Ltd? 


CHAIR: All right. Yes, I think I understand now. Thank you. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Yes, sorry for the interruption. I just wanted to clear up the structure. 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Romero, when I was asking you about Mzia's complaints and how she   which process she could have used to address them, I believe that your evidence was once she was out of the employment assistance phase and into the post placement support phase, she should have raised any concerns she had with PPSO. Sorry, PPSO 1. Have I correctly understood your evidence? 

MS ROMERO: Well, depends on whether   when she liaised with PPSO 1, in terms of the support that she needed at work to make   ensure that her employment was sustainable, she could have raised it with that particular individual. If it was more operational in nature, for example, she was having issues with training skills within her role as a barista trainer, then it should have been Mr Rodrigues. 

MS DOWSETT: Don't those things go to whether her employment is sustainable? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure what do you mean by that? 

MS DOWSETT: Well, you said if she had concerns about her employment, about things she would need about training, she should have raised those with Mr Rodrigues. 

MS ROMERO: Within operationally, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, how is Mzia to know whether AimBig regards it as an operational concern or a post placement support concern? 

MS ROMERO: I think it's very clear from the evidence that we should have sat down with Mzia and explained the delineation of roles. I don't believe, based on the evidence, that we did that. And I think we could have done a better job with that. 

MS DOWSETT: So you would agree that the procedures of AimBig failed Mzia as a DES participant? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object to that. That is not the answer that Ms Romero just gave. 

CHAIR: No, I think Ms Romero is perfectly capable of answering the question. So ask it again, if you would like that, please. Just ask the question again. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you agree that the procedures of AimBig failed Mzia as a DES participant? 

MS ROMERO: I don't agree. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you agree that the people responsible for administering AimBig's procedures failed Mzia as a DES participant? 

MS ROMERO: I think to say "completely failed" would be unreasonable, given that the post placement support was offered.   But I think there were some gaps in that, and I do believe we could have done a better job.  To use the word "fail" is a bit strong. I don't believe we failed. We just didn't do a good job in that instance.  Although there was   we supported her to some extent, but we could have done a better job, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you as CEO accept that you are responsible for those gaps that you have just described? 

MS ROMERO: Ultimately, yes, I am responsible. 

MS DOWSETT: And do you offer Mzia an apology for those gaps? 

MS ROMERO: I've read the evidence provided by Mzia and I've read the evidence from Mr Ting, and one of our values is People value. In Mzia's instance, we did not live up to our People value. I would like to apologise on behalf of the Group, in fact, Rehab Management and AimBig. I would like to apologise for Mzia not having a good experience with us, and I would apologise for the way she feels. We did not live up to our People value in that instance. 

MS DOWSETT: Have you given any thought of what kind of redress AimBig or Rehab Management could make to Mzia? 

MS ROMERO: Can you   what do you mean by that? 

MS DOWSETT: Well, you have acknowledged deficiencies. You have apologised now for those deficiencies. Have you thought about how you might make redress for those deficiencies and their impact upon her? 

MS ROMERO: What do you mean by "redress"? Can you just explain what you mean by that exactly, please? 

MS DOWSETT: Do you   what do you understand the word "redress" to mean? 

CHAIR: I think the word "redress" is a common English word, Ms Romero. I would be surprised if you didn't understand what it means. It would cover compensation. It would cover remedial action of different kinds. It would cover attempting to make up for what has happened. Does that explain it, to the extent applied? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. I just   I knew that. I just wanted clarification. I'm just a bit confused about the question, actually, because I wasn't   I didn't realise that that was part of this. But I can certainly go away and think about it. 

CHAIR: Well, let me explain, to put it in context, Ms Romero: We have had a number of cases in which people with disability have come to the Royal Commission and told their stories, which have resulted, in many cases, in very distressing situations that they have experienced of various kinds and in various contexts. And one of the questions that has been raised when those things happen is what is the organisation who's been responsible for inflicting that kind of bad experience, which may amount to violence or abuse or exploitation   depending upon the context   what does that organisation propose to do about it in order to remedy what occurred to the particular individual?

So it is not a novel question, and it's something that is within our Terms of Reference. So with that explanation, I hope it is now clear what Ms Dowsett is asking you. 

MS ROMERO: It is clear. Thank you, Chair. I understand what you're saying, and I would need to go away and think about that. If that's okay. 

MS DOWSETT: Are you asking to take that question on notice? 


MS DOWSETT: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Yes, that can be done. Thank you, Ms Romero. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you. I appreciate the clarification, Chair. 

MS DOWSETT: I'm going to change topics now, Ms Romero. You were following the evidence yesterday, I think you said, so you heard Mr Ting give evidence? 


MS DOWSETT: And he spoke about some funding that was received from a State Government? 


MS DOWSETT: Are you able to assist the Royal Commission by perhaps taking on notice and providing us with details of any State Government funding that was received by the BusyBeans program in the Region in the period 1 January 2019 to 1 April 2020 and whether that funding was relevant to paid participants or unpaid work experience participants? 

MS ROMERO: Can you just   which document you are making reference to? 

MS DOWSETT: I am reading from the transcript. 

MS ROMERO: Yeah, I don't have the transcript in front of me, sorry. 

MS DOWSETT: So Mr Ting was answering questions about the participants being provided with the opportunity to participate in the Part Qualification program. The   

MS ROMERO: I just don't have that document in front of me, so, I'm sorry, I don't know which point you're referring to. Can you give me that document? 

CHAIR: Are you referring to the transcript from the first day of hearing? 

MS DOWSETT: No, I am referring to transcript yesterday, page 17 at line 40 to 41. 

CHAIR: Would you mind reading that out to Ms Romero, please? 

MS DOWSETT: Well, I am going to omit the name of the State in keeping with the non publication, but my question to Mr Ting, which is a couple of lines earlier is   he is talking about funding and I said:

"So that is funding over and above there being a DES participant and AimBig as their DES provider providing post placement support to them?"

We were talking about a course that some of the BusyBeans did. 


MS DOWSETT: And Mr Ting replies:

"Correct. It was the  "

Insert name of State Government:

"[Redacted] funding was applied for this. 


MS DOWSETT: So what I'm asking you to take on notice is to provide to the Royal Commission details of State funding provided to AimBig for the BusyBeans program in the Region that we're concerned with in the period from 1 January 2019 to 1 April 2020. 

MS ROMERO: Okay. We will take that on notice. 

MS DOWSETT: So I'm just being passed a note to say it may have   I would like the funding, whether it went to AimBig or to Rehab Management, if it was for the BusyBeans program. Is that clear? 

MS ROMERO: That's clear. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. In your supplementary statement, which, as I noted earlier, is in Volume B at tab 28. 

MS ROMERO: B; is that correct? 

MS DOWSETT: B, Bravo. 

MS ROMERO: Okay. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you have that? 

MS ROMERO: I'm getting it. Thank you. What's the MT number? 

MS DOWSETT: It's not an MT number because it's your supplementary statement. 

MS ROMERO: There it is, sorry. Apologies, yes. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you have that? 

MS ROMERO: That's it. Okay. Yes, that there. Okay. I've got it. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. In paragraph 10, you refer to an audit report. 


MS DOWSETT: From 2020. 


MS DOWSETT: And you have annexed at MR 1 a copy of the Executive Summary of that audit report. Is that correct? 

MS ROMERO: Yep, I've got it here. 

MS DOWSETT: And at paragraph 11, you refer to the 2021 Audit Report. 


MS DOWSETT: And you have annexed a copy of the Audit Summary and Executive Summary from that report. 

MS ROMERO: Is it this one? Yep. 

MS DOWSETT: And that is MR 2. 

MS ROMERO: MR 2, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Sorry, just to be clear, MR 1 is the Audit Summary and Executive Summary for 2020. 

MS ROMERO: 2020. Okay. 

MS DOWSETT: I think I said only Executive Summary a moment ago. 

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry, can you just clarify, please? Which one are you referring to in particular?

MS DOWSETT: Both of them. I want you   I want to direct your attention   I don't want you to look at the documents. I want you to look at paragraph 10 and paragraph 11. Do you have those? 


MS DOWSETT: And do you agree that they say that you have annexed extracts from the audit report? 


MS DOWSETT: Being the Audit Summary and the Executive Summary? 


MS DOWSETT: Can you tell the Royal Commission why you didn't give us the whole reports? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure. I mean, we can if you want to. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, did you prepare this statement or was it prepared for you? 

MS ROMERO: No, I prepared it. 

MS DOWSETT: When you made the decision only to include that   those extracts, why did you make that decision? 

MS ROMERO: Because it highlighted the auditor's summary. 

MS DOWSETT: And these audits are undertaken for the purposes of providing them to DSS? 

MS ROMERO:  Based on mutual statement, DES providers get externally audited once a year, a national standard of Employment Services. That's a requirement of DES providers. So we have been audited for the last three years by an external auditor company. And we've actually achieved nil non conformities for those three years. So that report that was provided to you was the findings of that report from the external auditor. 

MS DOWSETT: My question was, these audits were undertaken for the purposes of providing them to DSS. Is the answer to that question yes? 

MS ROMERO: We're expected to do external audits, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Ms Romero, are you familiar with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability? 


MS DOWSETT: Can you explain to the Royal Commission how AimBig applies that Convention in its day to day work? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object to that. That's an incredibly broad question. How can it possibly be answered? 

CHAIR: Well, I think it can be answered and Ms Romero is about to answer it, I'm sure. 

MS ROMERO: I think we do have training for - all our consultants, and our management - do have training on human rights. That's a requirement and we do that during onboarding. So our expectation is that people do understand the rights of people with disabilities. We referred yesterday to the Adjustment Policies. We do have Adjustment Policies and we take   we take it very seriously at the Arriba Group that we're not   personally, my values is that people with disabilities need to have the right, we need to be fair, we need to provide them with support, and I'm very   that really aligns with my personal values. 

So we instill that, in our People value s, and we instill that in making sure that we show respect to people with disabilities, and we do that and that we're embedding that. In Mzia's situation, I think that we could have done a better job in living our people value but, personally, I think that we do that as a Group   at the Arriba Group, we do that well. 

MS DOWSETT: My question was, how does AimBig apply the Convention in its day to day work and you spoke about training that's provided during onboarding. But if you could answer the question about how you apply it in the day to day work. 

MS ROMERO: In the day to day work as we're working   you know, we have meetings weekly, we have meetings monthly. We ensure that, in line with our People value, that we don't do it internally, that we also highlight the rights of people with disabilities and the respect that we need to ensure. That it applies on a daily basis. 

MS DOWSETT: And this training that you've spoken of, who is that provided to?  Is it all employees? 

MS ROMERO: Yes (indistinct). 

MS DOWSETT: All employees of AimBig? 


MS DOWSETT: What about employees of Rehab Management? 


MS DOWSETT: Mzia was an employee of Rehab Management. She never had this training. 

MS ROMERO: The training started   we had online training, and I believe that started two or three years ago, two years ago. 

MS DOWSETT: Sorry, how many years ago? 

MS ROMERO: I would actually   I'm not across the detail. I would have to liaise with our Chief People Officer. I'm not across the detail. 

MS DOWSETT: Have you done the training? 


MS DOWSETT: When did you do it? 

MS ROMERO: Last month. 

MS DOWSETT: Last month. 

MS ROMERO: No   yes, last month. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So was that the first time you'd done it? 

MS ROMERO: No, it was a refresher. 

MS DOWSETT: When did you first do the training? 

MS ROMERO: I can't recall. A long time ago. I've been in operations for 24 years. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, but I'm talking about the training you referred to, that you say is offered to all employees of AimBig and all employees of Rehab Management and you said   firstly, you said it was offered as part of onboarding, but you also just said it's only recently been introduced. So what I would like to know is when you did the training. 

MS ROMERO: Sorry. Can I just clarify, it was recently introduced digitally. So we used a digital platform to provide the training. That's what I meant, sorry. I needed to clarify that. 

MS DOWSETT: No, I accept that clarification. So how long has AimBig and Rehab Management had human rights training as part of its onboarding process? 

MS ROMERO: I just don't recall the detail. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, are you able to say that it is not something that you've always had? 

MS ROMERO: No, that's not right. 

MS DOWSETT: So when Mzia started work for Rehab Management, on 7 May 2019, you had it then? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not across the detail. 

MS DOWSETT: So if you're not across the detail, how can you say that   how could you give the answer before that it   this training isn't something you've always had?

MS ROMERO: We've had training, but because we've evolved digitally, we're now putting it on a digital platform. That's what I meant earlier. We have lots of policies and procedures, hundreds of them. So it's very hard for me to be across all of them. But I can certainly link up and consult our Chief People Officer. 

MS DOWSETT: I'd like to take you now to a document that is in Tender Bundle C for Charlie and at tab 13. 


MS DOWSETT: Do you have that there? 


MS DOWSETT: It's an email from you to a person at DSS? 


MS DOWSETT: And it's dated 4 March 2020. 

MS ROMERO: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: And you're responding to a request for information about the BusyBeans program. 

MS ROMERO: Yes, it is. 

MS DOWSETT: Please turn now to tab 14. 


MS DOWSETT: This is the information that you provided to DSS about the BusyBeans program. 

MS ROMERO: That document was prepared by Terry Wilson. I had oversight of that and I signed that document. I was relying on the evidence provided to me   or the information and the contents provided to me by Terry Wilson. 

MS DOWSETT: Did you take any steps to verify the accuracy of the information contained in it? 


MS DOWSETT: What steps did you take? 

MS ROMERO: I   I actually wanted to see the assessment tools they were using. They provided that information. Being an occupational therapist, I had questions about the standardised assessment and the evidence base to determine why that was used. So I addressed that. I needed to understand why   with the labour hire the   making sure that if that information was correct. So, yes, I did. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So I'd just like to take you to some entries in this response. Firstly, if you could please turn to page 4 of 28. And this is the answer to the question asked in paragraph B. 


CHAIR: Sorry, what document are we looking at now? 

MS DOWSETT: We're in C14. 

CHAIR: C14. Yes, thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: So this is the assessment tool you were just referring to. That's what you're describing here? 

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry, 4 of 28 does not have an assessment tool here. So I'm not sure which   what you're referring to. 

MS DOWSETT: Paragraph   the answer to paragraph B begins:

"We utilise a comprehensive suitability assessment and selection process." 

And then you refer to Annexure A. 

MS ROMERO: Yes. I've got it now. 

MS DOWSETT: Is this what you were referring to   this Annexure A, which begins at page 13, is this the assessment tool that you were saying that, as an occupational therapist, you wanted to have a closer look at? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. Yes. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: And you say in your answer to DSS that:

"These are completed before onboarding and also in the post training phase."

MS ROMERO: My understanding at a time of writing this document, that assessment was being used. Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: The evidence before the Royal Commission indicates that the assessment tool was briefly trialled in 2020. Does that accord with your understanding? And then, of course, COVID hits in March 2020 and so everything stops. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: So to the extent that this answer suggests that the process was always used in the BusyBeans program, you'd agree that's incorrect? 

MS ROMERO: I agree that at the time we wrote this document that a standardised assessment tool was being used. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you also agree that it wasn't used in the period from May 2019 to the end of 2019 in the Region? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure. I would need to consult the Grant. I wasn't across that detail. 

MS DOWSETT: But you did just agree with me that it was being trialled in early 2020? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure when the trial period commenced. I'm not across that detail. 

MS DOWSETT: If I could direct your attention to page 5. 


MS DOWSETT: And the second paragraph on this page. It reads:

"The majority of the training provided is focused on practical barista skills, typically at a ratio of one trainer to two barista trainees, where the trainees use a commercial coffee machine at all times."

Do you see that? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I can see that 

MS DOWSETT: Now, the evidence that the Royal Commission heard about the program as it operated in the Region was that they used a ratio of one trainer to four trainees. Were you aware of that ratio? 

MS ROMERO: I wasn't across the detail back then. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. But you are now? 

MS ROMERO: Based on this report, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Sorry, based on this report? 

MS ROMERO: I'm across the detail now, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And the evidence from Mr Ting was that he was the person responsible for ordering the coffee machines, and he always bought this particular Breville model. Are you familiar with that evidence from yesterday? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object. The evidence was that there were different coffee machines for the office scenarios and the café scenarios. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. I accept that. Mr Ting's evidence was that for the in house training for   for the BusyBeans in the Region was that there was a Breville model and also that when he was responsible for purchasing the coffee machine to be placed for any external employment that was obtained, that was also the Breville model. And his evidence was that that is not a commercial coffee machine. Were you aware of that? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object to that. That  was not his evidence.  He didn't give evidence it was not a commercial coffee machine. 

CHAIR: Well, Mr Moorhouse, you'd better point to where the evidence was given so we can assess what he, in fact, said. 

MR MOORHOUSE: Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Do you have a transcript from yesterday? 

MR MOORHOUSE: It's   I refer counsel to paragraphs 10 and 11 of Mr Ting's supplementary statement. 

CHAIR: I suspect Ms Dowsett was referring to oral evidence, but I'm not sure. 

MS DOWSETT: I was referring to oral evidence and   but also 10 and 11 do not say that the   these are commercial coffee machines. 

MR MOORHOUSE: No, but nor do they say that they are not commercial coffee machines. And they say at the end of 11:

"Functionally it  "
being the Breville coffee machine 

"  operated in a similar manner to a commercial type café machine." 

CHAIR: Yes. I think that the question could be put on the basis of an assumption that that's what Mr Ting said. If it turns out that you're able to point to evidence from Mr Ting that is inconsistent, you can draw that to our attention later. 

MR MOORHOUSE: Thank you. 

CHAIR: So, Ms Dowsett, will you ask it on that basis, please? 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Romero, you've heard that exchange and the coffee machine that Mr Ting was referring to   and which is pictured in paragraph 10 of his supplementary statement, which is at tab B, Bravo, 15. 


MS DOWSETT: Page 2, paragraph 10. 


MS DOWSETT: You see that coffee machine? 

MS ROMERO: Yeah, I can. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. Do you accept that that's not a commercial coffee machine? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not an expert on coffee machines, so, yeah, I can't   I can't confirm or dispute that. 

MS DOWSETT: If it is the case that this is not a commercial coffee machine, do you accept that the reference on page 5 of your response to DSS was incorrect? 

MS ROMERO: I don't accept that. 

MS DOWSETT: So you don't   if this is not a commercial coffee machine, you don't accept that it's incorrect to say:

"Trainees utilised a commercial coffee machine at all times."

MS ROMERO: Again, I'm not   I wasn't across the detail and, based on that, I   I can't confirm that they were used all the time so I can't   I can't accept that. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, even if they were only used part of the time, doesn't it follow that commercial coffee machines were not used at all times? 

MS ROMERO: Again, I wasn't across the detail. 

MS DOWSETT: I'm not asking you whether you're across the detail. You have said to DSS:

"Commercial coffee machines were used at all times."

You see that? 

MS ROMERO: Yeah, I can see that. 

MS DOWSETT: If this machine pictured by Mr Ting in his supplementary statement is not a commercial coffee machine, do you accept that that statement is incorrect? 

MS ROMERO: But it could be a commercial machine. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, but if it's not. 

MS ROMERO: I just   it may look like it   I'm not sure.  I'm not sure what you are trying to say, I'm sorry. 

CHAIR: I think the position is this: having looked at paragraphs 10 and 11 of the supplementary statement by Mr Ting, it is a fair inference from the supplementary statement from Mr Ting when he says that, “functionally”, the machine that he has pictured operates in a similar manner to a commercial café machine, one can infer from that, that that particular machine is not a commercial café machine. So that is the inference I would draw from paragraph 11 in the absence of any contrary evidence from Mr Ting. 

So we can start with the proposition that this machine was not a commercial café machine and, as Mr Ting says in paragraph 11, it was chosen as the standard training model based on the experience in Arriba's head office. The question being asked is not one that depends upon your knowledge of the detail. The question you are asked is whether the statement in the document that was provided to DSS was accurate. Have I understood that correctly? 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, Chair. 

CHAIR: Right. Do you understand that now? 

MS ROMERO: Yeah, I now understand that, thank you, Chair. And based on that, no, it's not   it's incorrect. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Just to save anyone who's still searching for the transcript reference from yesterday, it is page 63 of the transcript and from line 14. I was asking Mr Ting about the video from the café that I had declined to show and making the point that the coffee machine is visible. And at line 16, Mr Ting responds:

"There was more than one coffee machine in the café. We did have that larger commercial coffee machine, and I believe we did have at least one or two of the smaller Breville models there as well."

And then down to line 26. I say:

"Right. And so you've got the commercial machine and some of the Breville models in the café."

And Mr Ting says, "Yes." Chair, I note the time. I have probably 15 more minutes with this witness. Would now be a convenient time for a break? 

CHAIR: If you would like to have a break, if that's convenient, yes, we can do that. It is now just before 10.50 Sydney time. We will resume at 11.05. Thank you. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you.



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Ms Romero, do  you still have your  response to DSS in front of you? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I do. 

MS DOWSETT: So I'd like to direct your attention to page 5. 


MS DOWSETT: And the bottom of the page where you're answering question F. 


MS DOWSETT: And the question relates to vacancies with TMC Solutions Pty Ltd. 


MS DOWSETT: Now, that organisation, Ms Leanne Divertie gave some evidence on behalf of them yesterday. 


MS DOWSETT: Did you hear that evidence? 

MS ROMERO: I did. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. What is the relationship, as you understand it, between AimBig Employment and TMC Solutions? 

MS ROMERO: The relationship is that they have been appointed as a labour hire to provide   to reduce the administrative burden on some of those employees. 

MS DOWSETT: So the administrative burden on which employees? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry. I'll take that back. We've appointed the labour hire so that instead of hiring them internal they would be hired by the labour hire and they would do all the administration so we didn't do that internally. 

MS DOWSETT: So the first "they" you're referring to in that answer is the BusyBeans participants? 

MS ROMERO: That's right. 

MS DOWSETT: So you're saying BusyBeans participants are employed by TMC Solutions. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: So that   is it Rehab Management employees are relieved of the administrative burden of that employment? 


MS DOWSETT: Is there a reason why Rehab Management employees were not able to handle the employment arrangements of BusyBeans participants? 


MS DOWSETT: Could you tell the Royal Commission what that was? 

MS ROMERO: I understand that at the time we only had two   one or two people in our P & C team and we didn't have the people resources to manage that. 

MS DOWSETT: How many BusyBeans participants were  employed   let's take the period May 2019. In the Region, we know that there were two participants employed in the first week, and they were employed by Rehab Management. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: That's correct? 


MS DOWSETT: And the process of administering their employment arrangements didn't impose a substantial burden on Rehab Management? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure. 

MS DOWSETT: At what number of participants do you understand the administrative burden kicked in? 

MS ROMERO: I don't know. 

MS DOWSETT: So on what basis did you determine that there was an administrative burden for employing BusyBeans participants through Rehab Management?

MS ROMERO: I don't know. 

MS DOWSETT: Were you involved in that decision? 

MS ROMERO: No, I wasn't. 

MS DOWSETT: But you were ultimately responsible for it? 

MS ROMERO: I've got management structures. Like I said, we've got four different levels of management. I would imagine that, at that point, it would have been P & C discussing that with our General Manager, Terry Wilson, who reported to Mr Oguz, who then reported to me. So I didn't get involved at that level. 

MS DOWSETT: Would you expect P & C, People and Culture, in the Rehab Management organisation to be able to handle onboarding of new employees? 

MS ROMERO: We're very much about supporting our people and if our people feel that they're overworked and we don't have the resources, then we need to ensure we either employ more people within P & C, or we outsource that function to the labour hire, which I understand is what occurred back then. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you know if any consideration was given to employing more resources? 


MS DOWSETT: No, you don't know? Or, no, it wasn't? 

MS ROMERO: I don't   I don't remember. 

CHAIR: How many employees does Rehab Management have at the moment? 

MS ROMERO: Rehab Management or the Group? 

CHAIR: Rehab Management. You've explained that there are different companies within the Group and that some care is taken as to which   company employs  which employees.   So I'm asking about employees of Rehab Management. 

MS ROMERO: 240. 

CHAIR: How many participants were there in the BusyBeans program? 

MS ROMERO: For that area? 

CHAIR: In 2019. For that area, yes. 

MS ROMERO: For the Region that   in question, there was 56, and I think for the overall program, there was about 167, from memory. Or 200, actually, including our trainees. 

CHAIR: And when the arrangements were entered into between Rehab Management and TMC Solutions, what role did TMC Solutions have in relation to what were now its employees to ensure that they received the support required as people with disability? 

MS ROMERO: My understanding   and, again, I wasn't across the detail   is that they onboarded, provided education around workplace and safety and had an induction program. But, again, I'm not across the detail because I wasn't involved then. 

CHAIR: Consistently with the principles of the Convention that were discussed earlier, it would be essential, would it not, for those DES participants who are being employed by   formally by TMC to receive not just induction but the supports to which they are entitled as   to use a shorthand expression, "reasonable supports" as people with disability. That would be the case, wouldn't it? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. I agree with that. 

CHAIR: But you don't know whether Rehab Management, which had entered into the arrangement with TMC, ensured that TMC would, in fact, provide those supports? 

MS ROMERO: I'm just not sure whether that occurred because, again, I wasn't involved in making those arrangements back then. 

CHAIR: I see. All right. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: You referred to there being 200 participants. The 180 Degrees Consulting report that we looked at yesterday said that there were 167. Can you   

CHAIR: No, I don't think Ms Romero said 200. I think she said 167. 

MS ROMERO: I did say 167. And there was    

MS DOWSETT: Yes, and then you corrected it to 200. I just wondered where the 200 came from. 

MS ROMERO: Apologies. 167. Just to clarify. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Back to page 5, that   in the second last paragraph you talk  about:

"Vacancies that are identified through TMC Solutions and/or AimBig Employment staff."

Are we to understand that the vacancies you're referring to there are external employment? So for people who've finished the BusyBeans program? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not   I think what that means is that vacancies are identified with   with labour hires, they have a network of employers, and we can use that network of employers to place our BusyBeans participants within those employers. That's what I think it means. So that is one of the other reasons we partnered with TMC, because not only were they doing the administration, but we could also access their host employers so that when our BusyBeans completed or went through the program, we were able to use their employment network, which is what happened. 

MS DOWSETT: My question was, is the vacancy there for external employment or is it a vacancy in the program so a participant can enrol and become a BusyBean? 

MS ROMERO: No, what that means that   it means that we'll be able to use their employer network and the vacancy is within that employer network. 

MS DOWSETT: For external employment? 


MS DOWSETT: Right. And in the next paragraph you talking about both TMC Solutions and AimBig Employment staff using a targeted strategy? 


MS DOWSETT: Whose responsibility was it to find external employment for the BusyBeans? 

MS ROMERO: Well, it's a mutual   obligation   I mean, everybody. The whole purpose was for people to go through the program and to ask   get them employed in sustainable employment. So it was everybody's responsibility to do that. And that's why we were so successful in placing people within sustainable employment. 

MS DOWSETT: When you say "so successful", the 180 Degree Consulting report said that 30 people nationally were placed in external employment out of the 167 participants. Is that what you mean by "so successful"? 

MS ROMERO: Well, in the Region that we're talking about, from the 56 participants that we met   we met   sorry, we worked with, of those 56, 22 were trainees and we managed to place 15, which equates to 26.8, in sustainable employment. So I consider that to be successful, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: So your answer about being "so successful" is limited only to the Region? 

MS ROMERO: We're talking about the Region right now. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, we are. I'm just wanting to be   give you the opportunity to be very clear what you meant when you said:

"That is why we were so successful."

MS ROMERO: I meant not only within the Region, which we placed very highly, but, nationally, we would have continued that positive trajectory, had it not been for COVID. Because we had a lot of people placed as internal baristas but, unfortunately, they were stood down because of COVID 19. So yes    

MS DOWSETT: So you had   please continue. 

MS ROMERO: The whole intent of the program with BusyBeans   it was a successful program. So I'm going to back to being successful in that the intent of the program was to train people with disabilities, provide them with the barista skills, the real life work experience, and pay them adult wages unlike the ADEs, Australian Disability Enterprises, formally known as sheltered workshops, they were paying them   paid $4.50. We were paying them adult wages. 

What that did to the individuals was amazing. It gave them a sense of confidence. It gave them a sense of, "I'm getting paid real wages" and I first hand witnessed that with an internal barista who has been with us since 2018 and   a 25 year old   we were talking about youth the other day. He's never had a job in his life. We employed him. What that did to him, when he was first paid, the sense of achievement that he felt, like a valuable member of our workforce because he was getting paid real wages. And that is what the BusyBeans program did. And that is what    

MS DOWSETT: Okay.    But that employee wasn't part of the BusyBeans program, was he? He was the inspiration for the BusyBeans program? 

MS ROMERO: But that's an example of what we did to an individual who wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to be in   working with people, abled people and being respected because he was getting a real wage. And that is what the BusyBeans program did to people. And we have so many more stories like that. The social impact   if you went back to that social impact report that was done by the University of Sydney, granted it only had a sample size done, but that report endorsed our program as being financially viable. 

We also had a report from the NDIA, and that report from the findings also indicated that all   91 per cent of those participants that went through the program had increased confidence and ability to relate to others, respect from others. That is   

MS DOWSETT: What is the sample size for that 91 per cent? 

MS ROMERO: The sample    

MS DOWSETT: 91 per cent of how many people? 

MS ROMERO: Well, it's 11 but we couldn't get more samples because of COVID. But it's representative   regardless of the sample size, it's representative   

MS DOWSETT: I'm going to slow you down there. We've got   we're being translated through Auslan translators, and I myself have a habit of speaking very quickly and they find it hard to keep up. And so I will just ask you, if you could, please, slow down your answers. And I just want to be clear that in NDIA report you're talking about is something that AimBig did for the NDIA? 

MS ROMERO: They provided the questions that they wanted answer, so we administered on their behalf, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And the results of that report are annexed to Mr Ting's statement and we find them in Volume B at tab 5. 

MS ROMERO: Would you like me to refer to that? 

MS DOWSETT: No, I'm just helping the Commissioners to know what you are talking about. You clearly know what you're talking about. So do I. But other people are following along. And just to be clear, this is a sample size of 11. 

MS ROMERO: I was just   that's right. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. Okay. Now, you were making    

CHAIR: Sorry, let's be clear about this. This is a survey as at 12 June 2020, and it talks about participant survey. The 11 responses were from whom? 

MS ROMERO: From the BusyBeans   the people that have went through the BusyBeans program. 

CHAIR: How many of those were there? 

MS ROMERO: How many   sorry, how many responded? 

CHAIR: No, how many had been through the program? I'm trying to work out of   what proportion of the total the 11 responses are. 

MS ROMERO: Mr Ting carried out that   well, he was   he administered that so he's got the details. So, I'm sorry, I can't answer that right now. 

MS DOWSETT: Is it 11 people out of the 167 total participants? 

MS ROMERO: I'm not sure. I can take that on notice, if you want. 

CHAIR: But if that were true, this is not worth the paper it's written on, is it? How do you draw anything out of a response of 11 people out of 167? How can you possibly draw any conclusions about the worth of the program? 

MS ROMERO: I think   I guess I'm still basing it on what they felt about the program. So it's their responses. So whether it was 10 or 11, that's what they said. 

MS DOWSETT: And we do see in that report   sorry, the pages are not numbered, so on the seventh page in, it identifies the postcodes from which the respondents come? 

CHAIR: My copy, if we're talking about the same document, has numbers at the bottom right. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, page 127. 

CHAIR: Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes, well, just if it starts here, that can't be page 127. 

CHAIR: Okay. All right. 

MS DOWSETT: Do you have that, Ms Romero? 


MS DOWSETT: And you see the postcodes that I'm referring to?

MS DOWSETT: None of those are from the Region we're talking about in the specific Case Study? 


MS DOWSETT: Do you accept that's true? 

MS ROMERO: Well I'm not sure what postcodes   if I can   I guess I do, yes. 

CHAIR: To whom was this survey communicated? 

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry? 

CHAIR: To whom was this survey communicated? 


CHAIR: And it was communicated in this form, was it? 

MS ROMERO: Well, that's what the attachment is. I would have to ask Mr Ting. I'm not sure. I could certainly give you the final report. 

CHAIR: Yes. That might be helpful, if you could take that on notice as well. That would be, I think, of assistance. 


CHAIR: Yes. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: And perhaps if you don't know, if you could confirm was that survey undertaken as a follow up to the grant received by AimBig for the BusyBeans program? 

MS ROMERO: Yeah, the grant was received by Rehab Management but, yes, it was in relation to that. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So this is   this is Rehab Management reporting back on the money it spent. 

MS ROMERO: Well, the grant was for Rehab Management. So, yes. But   and Matthew Ting was involved in compiling the information. 

MS DOWSETT: You spoke a little earlier about the intent of the BusyBeans program. I want to put to you some evidence that Mr Ting gave yesterday and confirm that you agree with it. So I'm beginning in the transcript at page 20, line 36. And I say to him:

"Well, because the BusyBeans program was conceived as a 26 week training opportunity; that's correct?"

And he responds:

"Correct. But we didn't terminate or end people's participation in the program at the end. We did continue to engage them after that if they were still in the program."

Do you agree that the BusyBeans program was conceived as a training opportunity with the intention of securing external employment? 

MS ROMERO: No, I don't agree. 

MS DOWSETT: So Mr Ting, the person with ultimate responsibility for administering the program, is wrong? 

MS ROMERO: The   the BusyBeans program provided participants with training, but they also provided them with real work experience. They worked in our offices, they worked in cafés, they worked in pop ups, and they got paid real adult wages. And they   that    

MS DOWSETT: Yes. Ms Romero, I'm going to cut you off there. Nobody is disputing the fact that they were paid wages and they had work experience.  My question to Mr Ting yesterday and now my question to you today is directed to the question of whether being in the program itself is the sustainable ongoing employment. Was it the purpose of being in the BusyBeans program that that particular placement was ongoing, sustainable employment? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, it was ongoing,  sustainable employment.  The purpose was to train them, to give them work experience and to liaise   to get them ongoing, sustainable employment with host employers. And we managed to do that very successfully. 

MS DOWSETT: So the people who went on to the host employers, they're the people who you say have got ongoing, sustainable employment? 


MS DOWSETT: The people   while they're in the BusyBeans program, that's not ongoing sustainable employment, is it? 

MS ROMERO: It's a pathway to getting there. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you. I'd like to turn to page 6 of your response to DSS. And from the middle of the page down, with bullet points, you set out the process by which people are selected for the BusyBeans program. 


MS DOWSETT: And then how they move into "related vacancies", they're called. Do you see that? 

MS ROMERO: Which bullet point is that, sorry? 

MS DOWSETT: So question G. 



"How is TMC Solutions Pty Ltd the sole employer of AimBig DES participants in BusyBean related vacancies."


MS DOWSETT: And so then you set out a description in answer to that question. And then you   the bullet points, as I understand them, are you explaining to DSS firstly how an AimBig DES participant becomes a BusyBean and then how the BusyBean secures, hopefully, external employment. Have I understood the bullet points correctly? 


MS DOWSETT: When you say in the second bullet point, is that:

"Participants receive up to four weeks training within a café or office environment."

Are you describing training pre entry into BusyBeans? 


MS DOWSETT: So where it says, the third bullet point:

"Participants assessed as being work ready before being placed with TMC Solutions and/or direct through AimBig Employment network of employers, AimBig will always promote direct employment of the BusyBeans."

So, as I understand it, getting into TMC Solutions, that's when you're in the BusyBeans program. Is that correct? 

MS ROMERO: No, that's not correct. 

MS DOWSETT: So when do you say being in the BusyBeans program starts? 

MS ROMERO: It starts when   when they're assessed to determine whether they're suitable for the program, they come to the program and they're given a period where we determined whether they're going to like it or not, in line with the skills, their   and their interest and their abilities. So once that's determined, then we go through the program. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And that's the four week training referred to in dot 2? 

MS ROMERO: Potentially. 

MS DOWSETT: Pardon? 


MS DOWSETT: Right. And that's unpaid? 

MS ROMERO: No, that   they start   initially, when they come in   okay, so can I just take you through the process. Is that okay? So   

MS DOWSETT: Well, is the work   is the training in dot 2 paid or unpaid? 

MS ROMERO: I would imagine that   I'm not sure, actually. I would need to consult Matthew Ting. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And at the end of that third dot point I just read out:

"AimBig will always promote direct employment of BusyBeans participants."

You see that? 

MS ROMERO: The third point, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: I thought the evidence was part of the rationale for using TMC Solution was to provide something of a seamless transition from BusyBean participant to external employment? 

MS ROMERO: We had two pathways. So that if our business development managers from AimBig had a potential employer, then we would capitalise that opportunity. So a pathway would be to use TMC and their employer networks and/or if we had VDMs in our internal team, if they had opportunities   and we have many examples where we would liaise directly with the employer with the purpose of placing the BusyBeans quickly. So we had two different pathways to getting them sustainable employment. 

MS DOWSETT: So were you always promoting direct employment or not? 

MS ROMERO: Of course. The whole purpose was to place people as quickly as possible, as long as they   we determined they were capable, they were confident, and once that was determined, then we would utilise TMC as a vehicle to utilise their employment networks and/or we would go directly to employers where we would place them. And we got many examples of those. 

MS DOWSETT: On to page 7. The first full paragraph begins: 

"Often a BusyBeans will transition." 


MS DOWSETT: And that's from TMC Solutions to an employment contract with a host organisation. 


MS DOWSETT: So that's what you're talking about going on to external employment. 


MS DOWSETT: But sometimes, we see in the next paragraph down:

"Often a BusyBean will remain employed with TMC Solutions."

MS DOWSETT: Right. Now, I keep saying TMC Solutions in full, partially because that's what you've written here but also I want to draw a distinction between TMC Solutions and TLH Services. You heard Ms Divertie's evidence yesterday. There are two separate corporate entities. 


MS DOWSETT: In all of these answers, you're only referring to TMC Solutions; is that correct? 

MS ROMERO: I understand they changed their structure and so I'm not   I'm not clear which   at what point was it TMC or TLH. 

MS DOWSETT: You didn't check that when were you writing this response to DSS? 

MS ROMERO: I'm sure we did, but it was two years ago, so, I'm sorry, I can't remember. 

CHAIR: I just  want to make sure I understand these pathways, because it's a little bit difficult and I'm sure some other people following the proceedings are having the same difficulty. If we take the 56 participants in the Region who were DES participants, you've said, I think, that 22 of them were trainees. 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

CHAIR: Who were the other 34? 

MS ROMERO: There were paid   there were BusyBeans that were getting paid and either employed   actually they were employed by TLH. Sorry, TMC Solutions 

CHAIR: So of the 56, 34 had been DES participants who had transitioned to be employed by TLC? 



MS ROMERO: That was the labour hire that was appointed. 

CHAIR: I know who they are. Why are they counted as part of the 56? 

MS ROMERO: That was the total participants for that Region. 

CHAIR: These are sort of graduates, are they, the 34? 

MS ROMERO: No, the 22 were trainees. 

CHAIR: Yes, I understand, yes. But the 34 had already been employed, as I understand your evidence, by TMC solutions. 

MS ROMERO: They went through the BusyBeans program. Rehab Management was getting   paying the appointed labour hire whilst they were getting trained and then we used an external ongoing host employer to   for them to remain in the sustainable employment. 

CHAIR: What was the standard practice? Let's take a DES participant. At what point does the DES participant become employed by TMC Solutions? What has to happen before that employment contract is entered into between the individual DES participant and TMC Solutions?

MS ROMERO: So the assessment would have been carried out, and the person would have been determined suitable to do the BusyBeans program. Then they would go   be employed   then they would get a contract from TMC. And they   they were appointed as a labour hire. Rehab Management would be paying the wages. And then once the person, the BusyBeans participant, gained the right skills, the knowledge and the confidence, then we would target an external   host employer for that person to have ongoing, sustainable employment. 

CHAIR: So the employment contract with TMC Solutions coincides, in effect, with acceptance of the individual DES participant into the BusyBeans program? 


CHAIR: At that point, as far as AB is concerned, what's the situation for recovery of funds from the Commonwealth or its agencies? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, can you repeat that question again, sorry. 

CHAIR: Yes. Once the employment contract is entered into with TMC Solutions   this is the start of the BusyBeans program, in the sense that the participant has now been assessed and has come into the program. The participant is an employee of an independent company, a labour hire company called TMC Solutions. What consequences flow for your organisation as far as reimbursement according to the various key indicators for reimbursement? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, I need to clarify that. Apologies. I think   the person is employed by Rehab Management, and they utilise the labour hire that were appointed and they paid the labour hire. 

CHAIR: Right. So the employment is with Rehab Management.

MS ROMERO: Rehab Management. Yes. Apologies. As a related entity. 

CHAIR: What's the relationship, then, between the DES participant and TMC Solutions? 

MS ROMERO: They   they're used as a labour hire and they do all the administration which is outsourced from Rehab Management. 

CHAIR: I'm sorry if this sounds basic, but I really do want to understand this. Is it any part of the role of TMC Solutions to find positions for these people who have been employed by Rehab? 

MS ROMERO: Well, as a partner, we've   it's everyone's interest to utilise the employment   their employer network as well as us internally to get   to partner with employers to get   gain, you know, sustainable employment for our participants. 

CHAIR: So are you saying that it is part of the job of TMC Solutions, but also Rehab and possibly AimBig participate in the process as well? 

MS ROMERO: I think it's   it's a collaboration, really, with   the whole purpose is to get employers    

CHAIR: I know what the purpose is. I'm just trying to work out how the purpose is effected. 

MS ROMERO: I think for   appointing labour hire, I think it's   in terms of having a partnership and utilising their employers network, it's purposeful for getting the participant placed and I think, as a good partnership with TMC, it's in everyone's interest to get people placed in ongoing host   sustainable employment with a host employer. 

CHAIR: We've established that the start of the BusyBeans program for a particular participant, having been assessed as suitable, is to be employed by Rehab. I'm sorry if I confuse things by referring to employment with TCL   to TMC. 

MS DOWSETT: Chair, can I interrupt for a minute. I might be able to assist you to find a way through this. 

CHAIR: Yes, because I'd really like to understand. Other people may understand it perfectly, but I'm not sure that I do. 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Romero and Commissioners, perhaps if you turn to the AimBig spreadsheet in Volume D, delta, at tab 85. 


MS DOWSETT: Do you have that there, Ms Romero? 


MS DOWSETT: Have you seen this spreadsheet before in preparation for giving your evidence today? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. Although there's a lot of information. But, yes. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. And you understand that this spreadsheet was prepared for the Royal Commission by AimBig? 


MS DOWSETT: Right. Now, the spreadsheet lists in rows all of the BusyBean participants in the Region. The columns are headed   and I will go slowly: ‘Name of the individual’, the ‘Date the individual commenced in the BusyBeans program’, the ‘Date the individual ceased in the BusyBeans program’, the ‘Site or location a participant attended’, the ‘Nature of the BusyBean's disability’. 

CHAIR: The participant's disability. 

MS DOWSETT: Sorry, the BusyBeans participant's disability. The ‘Name of the BusyBean participant's Employment Services, DES or SLES provider’. Yes, that's the School Leavers Program? 


MS DOWSETT: Column G, if the BusyBean participant service provider is or was AimBig or a related entity   a related company or entity to AimBig. The date the individual started receiving services, the date the individual ceased receiving services, and the type of services received. Column H   I'm just going to summarise   whether  they were paid a wage, salary or allowance. Column I, the name of the employer or organisation that paid the wage, salary or allowance.
Column J is the qualifications obtained. And Column K is whether the BusyBean participant obtained employment after ceasing the BusyBean program and the nature of that employment. And so in answer to the question from the Chair   and I think we may all have each contributed to confusing one another   there are two BusyBean participants in the Region who were employed by Rehab Management. That's correct? 


MS DOWSETT: And all of the other BusyBean participants on this spreadsheet   so that's of the paid employees, we know from the Statement of Agreed Facts there were 34. Take away the two Rehab Management ones, we've got 32 left. They are all identified on this spreadsheet as having been employed by   and you'll see this, it's Column I   TMC Solutions Pty Ltd trading as the TLH Group Holdings, TLH Services Pty Ltd. So even in your own spreadsheet, for some of them, you've listed two employers for the BusyBean participant. You see that? 

CHAIR: Do you mean the two TMC companies? 

MS DOWSETT: The TMC Solutions and the TLH services.   Think separate corporate entities as described twice    

MR MOORHOUSE: Sorry, Counsel, our internet froze for about 30 seconds. I apologise, but some of that question was missed. Ms Romero has the spreadsheet in front of her. 

CHAIR: I will read from the transcript, if I can. No, I can't, because it keeps moving. Ms Dowsett said in all of the other BusyBean participants on this spreadsheet   so that's of the paid employees. We know from the Statement of Agreed Facts there's were 34. Take away the two Rehab Management   I think that means employees   we have 32 left. They are all identified on this spreadsheet as having been employed by, you will see in Column I, TMC Solutions Proprietary Limited trading as the TH Group Holdings and TLH Services Proprietary Limited. 

So even in your own spreadsheet, for some of them, you have listed two employers for the BusyBeans participants. Do you see that? I then said: 

"Do you mean the two TMC companies? 

MS DOWSETT: The TMC Solutions and TLH Services. They are separate corporate entities."

And I think that's more or less where we were. Okay. 

MS DOWSETT: So do you agree that for some of the participants in AimBig's spreadsheet, you have listed two employers? 

MS ROMERO: I'm sorry, I didn't prepare this. 

MS DOWSETT: Okay. Coming back to   

CHAIR: Sorry, but   I apologise if I remain confused, but it now does appear that a significant proportion, at least, of the DES participants in this Region were, in fact, employed by one or other of the TMC companies? That's what this document appears to show, does it not? 


CHAIR: So your answer that they were all employed by Rehab Management was not, in fact, correct. 

MS ROMERO: I would need to   the manager  that managed the whole relationship with   the labour hire was Mr Terry Wilson, so I'm not across all the detail. So I would need to take this on notice, because I just find that the detail I need to   I'm not clear on it. 

CHAIR: Mr Wilson is the one who has resigned? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, and Matthew Ting, I would need to refer this to Matthew Ting, if that's okay. And I can take that on notice. 

CHAIR: I would have thought it's a matter of some importance to the Group, if you like, and specifically to Rehab Management, that participants in the scheme are actually employed by a labour hire company, TMC   one or other of those labour hire companies. It does seem to be a matter of some importance in terms of the structure of the program. I am therefore a little surprised that you don't know, apparently, what the purpose of this is. 

MS DOWSETT: As, Ms Romero, it's correct, isn't it, that this document was produced in   by AimBig in response to a notice issued by this Royal Commission to you? 

CHAIR: Sorry, to whom? 

MS DOWSETT: To Ms Romero at AimBig Employment Pty Ltd. 

MS ROMERO: I'm really sorry, but we lost you for 10 seconds again. I didn't hear that. I'm sorry. 

MS DOWSETT: I said, do you agree that it is correct that this document was produced by AimBig to the Royal Commission in response to a notice given by the Royal Commission to you, Ms Marcella Romero, Managing Director, AimBig Employment Pty Ltd? 


MS DOWSETT: So when you say you need to take on notice questions about the document, do you accept that you should be across the information provided to this Royal Commission in response to that notice? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, I should be across it. 

MS DOWSETT: And whether or not you can identify the specific labour hire entity referable to any individual BusyBean, I take it you can agree that 32 of the 34 paid employees in the Region were employed by labour hire company? 


MS DOWSETT: And that employment coincided with their participation in the program? 


MS DOWSETT: That employment provided the basis for the anchor date, as referred to in the DES Grant Agreement?

CHAIR: The anchor date being? 

MS DOWSETT: Well, are you familiar with what an anchor date is, Ms Romero? 


MS DOWSETT: You understand that it is the point in time from which outcomes other than the four week outcome are measured? 


MS DOWSETT: So 13 week, 26 weeks, 52 week outcomes for BusyBeans participants would have resulted in outcome fees to AimBig? 


MS DOWSETT: So you need to have an anchor date to start that clock ticking? You agree? 


MS DOWSETT: And AimBig anchored these placements, started the clock ticking, when the participant was   when the DES participant was participating in the AimBig   in the BusyBeans program? 

MS ROMERO: I would need to refer to Mr Ting. I'm not across all the detail. So, I'm sorry, I've just got to take it on notice. 

MS DOWSETT: Did AimBig receive outcome fees for participants in the BusyBean program? 


MS DOWSETT: And AimBig received those outcome fees on the basis that the BusyBean program constituted an employment placement? 


MS DOWSETT: And an employment placement is supposed to be sustainable, ongoing employment? 

MS ROMERO: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: The BusyBeans program was not sustainable, ongoing employment? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, it was. 

MS DOWSETT: I thought you agreed that the sustainable, ongoing employment was the external employment obtained after the program? 

MS ROMERO: The program   we   the BusyBeans participated in the program. They were trained, they built their skills, they got real work experience, and then we appointed   we appointed the labour hire to be able to continue with that sustainable employment. So it was sustainable employment. 

CHAIR: When the participant began employment with TMC   and I won't worry about the two different companies at the moment   that was the point at which the clock began to run, to use the language Ms Dowsett just used, isn't it? That was the start of the program. Yes? 

MS ROMERO: I'm just   I'm   no, I'm just   I need to take that on notice, if I may. 

CHAIR: Well, what I'm trying to ascertain is whether the employment contract entered into by TMC with each participant was regarded as the start of the clock ticking and then, as long as the participant was on the books recorded as an employee of TMC, then the 13, 26 and 52 weeks periods were running. Is that correct? 

MS ROMERO: Like I said, I just   I'm not across all that detail. I would need to    

CHAIR: You really don't know. You can't   as the head of this organisation on something so fundamental to the reimbursement under the Commonwealth schemes, you don't know? 

MS ROMERO: We have about 50 across the Group. It's very difficult for me to, respectfully, be across every single contract. 

CHAIR: Do you use labour hire firms in the same way for other DES participants or other programs? 

MS ROMERO: For other DES participants, I think that we do, yes. But, again, I haven't made those   have those relationships. 

CHAIR: So it seems to be part of the business model? 

MS ROMERO: For DES or across the board? 

CHAIR: No, for Arriba Group and its various companies. 

MS ROMERO: No, we don't use labour hire very often. But we do use them on a need basis. 

CHAIR: All right. My next question for you to take on notice is whether the clock runs by reason of the contract of employment between the individual DES participant and TMC regardless of whether the DES participant is actually engaged in work that is   that can fairly be regarded as employment. Do you understand the question? 

MS ROMERO: Yes. I've written it down, thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Chair, if I may add to that, for the individuals listed in the spreadsheet at D, delta, 85, could you please provide the anchor date. Thank you. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Ms Dowsett, I'm sorry to have taken so long, but I really did and do want to understand how this all works. 

MS DOWSETT: I think it's fundamental, Chair. Ms Marcella   Ms Romero, I apologise, you've requested to take those questions on notice and the Chair has agreed to you doing so. But I just want to test something with you. You were aware that you were coming to this Royal Commission this week to give evidence in relation to a Case Study involving this particular Region and this particular period of time. 


MS DOWSETT: And you were   AimBig was and Rehab Management was the recipient of Notices to Produce to this Royal Commission? 


MS DOWSETT: You didn't feel it appropriate, in preparation for coming to give your evidence, to get yourself across the detail of how the program operated in the Region in the relevant period? 

MS ROMERO: I was across the detail of my statements, but there was just a lot of information to cover. And I would have assumed that that question was being asked by Mr Ting. So I apologise from that perspective. I should have been across all the detail, but I wasn't. But I'm happy to go away and take that on notice. 

CHAIR: You would appreciate, having Mr Ting's evidence, that he said he wasn't directly responsible for the conduct of this program and that he didn't know the answers to quite a number of the questions that he was asked. You appreciate that, don't you? 


CHAIR: Yes. All right. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Ms Romero, I want to finish your evidence   I was going to say this morning, but we've slipped into afternoon   today by putting to you a series of propositions. I would like you to  listen to the proposition and I invite you to either agree or disagree. Is that clear? 

MS ROMERO: Clear. 

MS DOWSETT: So the first proposition is that AimBig did not provide adequate and appropriate post placement  support to Mzia as a DES participant. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: I'm really sorry. There was noise in the hearing room and I didn't hear the answer. 

MS ROMERO: I disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: The second proposition is that there was conflict between AimBig's dual roles as Mzia's DES provider and her host employer in the delivery of the BusyBeans program as run by AimBig. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, can you repeat that again, please? 

MS DOWSETT: There was conflict between AimBig's dual roles as Mzia's DES provider and her host employer in the delivery of the BusyBeans program run by AimBig. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Third proposition. AimBig  did not have appropriate processes to manage that conflict, particularly in the context of Mzia's dual relationship with her job coach. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Fourth proposition. AimBig did not meet its obligations under the DES Grant Agreement and the DES Guidelines to review and amend Mzia's Job Plan. 

MS ROMERO: Agree. 

MS DOWSETT: You agree? 

MS ROMERO: Yeah. I do. 

MS DOWSETT: Fifth proposition.   AimBig's complaint making and resolution process was not made clear to Mzia as a DES participant. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: AimBig did not take appropriate action in response to concerns raised by Mzia as a DES participant. Do you agree or disagree? 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

CHAIR: I have to say, Ms Romero, it's not easy to understand that answer in view of your previous evidence. Are you sure that's the answer you want to give to that question? 

MS ROMERO: Can you please repeat it again, Counsel? 

MS DOWSETT: AimBig's complaint resolution process was not made clear to Mzia as a DES participant. AimBig did not take appropriate action in response to concerns raised by Mzia as a DES participant. 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object. I thought that was two   that was previously put as two separate questions. I understood the Chair was focusing on the second of them. 

CHAIR: It's the second question. 

MS DOWSETT: Sorry, I'm just reading off my notes and it's one paragraph. I will put it clearly. 

CHAIR: It's only the second question that I directed Ms Romero's attention to. 

MS DOWSETT: Yes. AimBig did not take appropriate action in response to concerns raised by Mzia as a DES participant. 

MS ROMERO: I disagree. 

CHAIR: Why? 

MS ROMERO: Because some of the   I mean, some of the concerns were   for example, with the position descriptions, they were addressed. It's just that we weren't fast enough to finalise the position description in that situation. So there were attempts  to get things done. It just wasn't getting done fast enough. So that's where I think we could have done better. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Proposition 6. Within the Region in the relevant period   so that is from 1 January 2019 to 1 April 2020   the DES participants in the BusyBeans program were not adequately trained to support future employment opportunities. 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Again, within the Region and in that relevant period, DES participants in   for the DES participants in the BusyBeans program, few participants obtained relevant and long term employment following their participation in the program. 

MS ROMERO: Sorry, can you repeat that again, please? It was   the reception, sorry, apologies. 

MS DOWSETT: Within the Region and in the relevant period, few participants in the BusyBeans program obtained relevant and long term employment following their participation in the BusyBeans program. 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Within the Region and in the relevant period, there was not appropriate and adequate post placement support made available to DES participants in the BusyBeans program. 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Within the Region, and in the relevant period, the BusyBeans program was operated in a way to maximise outcome payments for AimBig. 

MS ROMERO: Disagree. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Those are my questions for this witness. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Our customary approach is to ask if my colleagues have any questions, which I shall now do. Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions to ask of Ms Romero? 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: No questions. Thank you. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Commissioner. Commissioner Mason, do you have any questions? 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Yes, I just have one question, Chair, and that's in relation to grievances and complaints within the company. In the Policy and Procedures documents, is there any information around a register of keeping a log of complaints and grievances? 

MS ROMERO: Yes, there is. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: And is that provided to organisations who audit the company? 

MS ROMERO: I think so, yes, but I would need to consult our Compliance Manager, but I believe it is. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: And is there particular instructions of how informal and formal complaints are registered by employees and their supervisor? 

MS ROMERO: I believe so, but, again, I  would need to ask our Risk and Compliance Manager. 


MS ROMERO: Thank you. 

CHAIR: Thanks, Commissioner Mason. Do any of the represented parties seek to ask Ms Romero any questions? If not, thank you very much for your attendance, Ms Romero, and for giving evidence today. You're now excused as a witness. Is that in order? 

MS DOWSETT: That is in order. Thank you, Chair. And I propose that we now take a brief five minute adjournment and then we will come back with Ms Thornton. 

CHAIR: Yes, thank you. We will take a short adjournment. 

MS ROMERO: Thank you.



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Dowsett. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. The next witness will be Ms Renee Thornton. She is currently the General Manager for Rehab Management (Aust) Pty Ltd. But at the time of our   relevant to our Case Study she was the State Manager of Rehab Management in the State where the Region is located. 

CHAIR: Yes. Ms Thornton, thank you very much for coming to the Royal Commission today to give evidence. Just to explain where everybody is, as you may not be familiar with the locations, Commissioner Galbally is joining the Royal Commission hearing from Melbourne. Commissioner Mason is joining the hearing from our Brisbane hearing room. I am in the Sydney hearing room, as is Ms Dowsett. That's where we are, and I will now ask Ms Dowsett to ask you some questions. 

MS DOWSETT: Thank you, Chair. Ms Thornton, you provided a statement to this Royal Commission dated 21 February 2022. 

MS THORNTON: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: Commissioners, you will find that in Volume B for bravo, behind tab 83. Ms Thornton, have you been following the evidence of this Royal Commission? 

MS THORNTON: Some of the evidence, not all of it. 

MS DOWSETT: I am going to show you some photographs that have been displayed during this Royal Commission. I take you   I'll get the    first one brought up now. Photo 2, please. So just while that's happening, you say in your statement, as I said, that you were the State Manager for the relevant state? 

MS THORNTON: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And you say that you attended Office 1 approximately on a monthly basis. 

MS THORNTON: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And you saw the BusyBeans program in action in Office 1? 

MS THORNTON: That's correct. 

MS DOWSETT: This photograph shows the reception area at Office 1 on the first day of the BusyBeans program. Do you recognise this as the reception area? 


MS DOWSETT: And do you accept that it is not out the back as described in   sorry, the coffee machine is not out the back of the office as described in your statement? 

MS THORNTON: If that is the first day then   then I do accept that. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. Please change to Photo 3. So this is, again, the   reception area in Office 1? 

MS THORNTON: Correct. 

MS DOWSETT: And the   the coffee machines, as you will see when we transfer now, please, to Photo 4 are located behind those partitions. You can see the coffee machine on a bench there? 


MS DOWSETT: Please turn to Photo 5. This is the same set up on another angle on   photographed on the same day. 

CHAIR: Are you asking Ms Thornton to agree or telling her? 

MS DOWSETT: No, I'm telling her that. And these photographs were taken in June of 2019 and were sent by Mzia to the National Operations Manager on 24 June. Did you see Office 1 set up in this manner? 

MS THORNTON: That looks   yeah, that looks familiar. 

MS DOWSETT: When Mr Ting saw these photographs, he described it as boggling his mind that the training set up was like this. What was your reaction to seeing this training set up? 

MR MOORHOUSE: I object, Chair. I think the comment Mr Ting made was specifically about the placement of the coffee machine on the computer stand, rather than the set up generally. 

MS DOWSETT: I turn to the transcript of yesterday. At page 46. 

CHAIR: One moment while I bring that up. 46? 


CHAIR: Yes. 

MS DOWSETT: So beginning at line 27 my question was: 

"And were you  "

CHAIR: Now, this happened last time. My page 46 apparently doesn't match your page 46. 

MS DOWSETT: That's problematic. 

CHAIR: So you read what you've got. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. So question: 

"And were you aware that the coffee machine as pictured was sitting on a computer stand?"

And Mr Ting at line 30 on my page responds:

"No, I   it boggles my mind why it was set up like that and who did that. I don't understand the reason for that. It   that   doesn't look suitable to me."

And then I said to him:

"Who would you have expected to have oversight of this training environment?"

And he in his response named a number of people, including Mzia and the management of the Rehab Management office in the Region. So I accept, Mr Moorhouse, that perhaps the boggling of the mind was because the coffee machine was sitting on a computer stand. Do you recognise that as a computer stand that the coffee machine is sitting on? 


MS DOWSETT: And what was your reaction to seeing this training set up? 

MS THORNTON: I'd probably like to take it back to the previous   the first picture that you showed me because that is more my recollection of how it was set up. 

MS DOWSETT: Well, you said you went to the office on a monthly basis. 

MS THORNTON: I did. And    

MS DOWSETT: And so the coffee machine was originally on reception. 


MS DOWSETT: And then in June, late June, it was moved to this set up and it remained in this set up for some time   a number of months. 


MS DOWSETT: So you saw it this way? That's correct? 

MS THORNTON: It looks familiar. I didn't notice that it was on a computer stand, when you flashed that bit   (indistinct) 

MS DOWSETT: I'm sorry, please say that again. I didn't hear it. 

MS THORNTON: I didn't notice when you showed that picture that it was on a computer stand. 

MS DOWSETT: But when you were physically in the office, did you notice it? 

MS THORNTON: I did not, no. 

MS DOWSETT: When you were physically in the office, did you form any view as to the appropriateness of this training environment? 

MS THORNTON: I did not. 

MS DOWSETT: If we could please have Photo 7. Did you ever, when you were physically in the office, see Office 1's training environment set up like this? 

MS THORNTON: I do not recall that, no. 

MS DOWSETT: You may be able to discern in the foreground of the photo on the right hand side as you look at it a grey bucket sitting on the desk. Can you see that? Perhaps we can zoom in. 

MS THORNTON: I can see a bin on the ground. 

MS DOWSETT: So there's   sitting up on the desk you can see that   the coffee machine towards the rear of the photo? Do you see that? 


MS DOWSETT: And then moving into the foreground   there's now a red pointer on it   that's the grey bucket? Do you see that? 

MS THORNTON: Sorry, I can't see that, unfortunately. My   if you could move it to the left? 

MS DOWSETT: Move the screen to the left a bit? 


MS DOWSETT: So in the foreground of the photo now, there's a black container with a pipe running across it and, sitting behind that, the grey bucket. 


MS DOWSETT: When you were physically in Office 1, you've said you   that this set up looked familiar to you; was that correct? 

MS THORNTON: It looks familiar, but I actually can't place that picture.


MS THORNTON: It might be the angle of the photo. 

MS DOWSETT: Right. Do you recall ever seeing anybody carrying that grey bucket backwards and forwards through the work area to the kitchen? 

MS THORNTON: Not from my recollection, no. 

MS DOWSETT: In your view, as the then relevant State Manager   sorry, I will   different question first. As the then State Manager, did you have any oversight of the set up of the training environment in Rehab Management offices? 

MS THORNTON: I did not. 

MS DOWSETT: Looking at the photos now, do you have a view as to the appropriateness of this training set up? 

MS THORNTON: In looking at that photo and understanding what that is, in a café environment   there's a coffee machine, there's somewhere for the coffee beans to go, and there's a bucket next to it which would be reasonable in a café environment. 

MS DOWSETT: So you're saying it's a reasonable training environment? 

MS THORNTON: I'm not suggesting that it's a reasonable training environment. I think that you asked me if it's a reasonable set up. 

MS DOWSETT: Reasonable set up for a training environment. Let's be very clear. That is what I want to know. Do you think this image as shown is a reasonable set up for a training environment? 

MS THORNTON: I   to be honest, I can't answer that question, because I'm not somebody that is trained to train people. I'm   that's not   that's not my role. 

CHAIR: So, Ms Thornton, what was   what was the purpose or  purposes of your regular visits to this particular site? 

MS THORNTON: I would go to the site for an operational sort of day to day management, see people as well as customers within the Region. 

CHAIR: What's does "operational sort of day to day management" mean? 

MS THORNTON: Meeting, one on ones with relevant staff members and reports. Like direct reports. Yeah. That would be what I would do when I go to that particular office. 

CHAIR: And what about the trainees? Did you meet with them? 

MS THORNTON: I did meet them as part of being in the office, in terms of being introduced to people. And I did have general conversation with people   with the trainees. 

CHAIR: Was it part of your   was it part of your role to get their perceptions of whether the set up was satisfactory or whether their training was meeting their expectations? 

MS THORNTON: No, it wasn't part of my role. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: No further questions. Thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Thornton, for giving your evidence. You're now   excused as a witness. Thank you. 

MS THORNTON: Thank you. 

MS DOWSETT: Chair, that is the end of the evidence for the Case Study. If I may seek a brief five minute adjournment to reconstitute the set up ready for our next witness? 

CHAIR: Right. Are we going to have a coffee machine for that set up? 

MS DOWSETT: No, I'm sorry, Chair. I do not have a coffee machine. 

CHAIR: We will adjourn briefly.



CHAIR: Yes, Ms McMahon. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you, Chair. Our next witness is Mr Rick Kane. He is the CEO of    

CHAIR: One moment because I can't see Mr Kane on screen at the moment. So let's check that we've got Mr Kane with us. Something is happening. Thank you, Mr Kane. We can now see you on screen. We couldn't see you previously. Thank you for coming to the Royal Commission to give evidence. I will explain   just before Ms McMahon asks you some questions, I will explain that Commissioner Galbally, whom you can see on screen, is in our Melbourne hearing   is in Melbourne, Commissioner Mason is in our Brisbane hearing room, and I am in the Sydney hearing room together with Ms McMahon, who will ask   who I will now ask to ask you some questions. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you, Chair. Before I commence, I'd just like to thank you, Mr Kane, for your patience over the last couple of days, and we're very grateful that you've been on stand by to give evidence at this hearing. Commissioners, Mr Rick Kane is the CEO of Disability Employment Australia or DEA, which is the peak body for Disability Employment Services. DEA   I beg your pardon. 70 per cent of DES providers are DEA members. 

Just by way of background, Mr Kane has extensive experience in the disability employment sector. I refer you, Commissioners, to his CV at Volume A, tab 14. He's been the CEO of DEA since 4 January 2015. He's held previous positions including Project Manager of Research and Policy at WISE Employment from 2006 to 2014. And you will also see from his experience that he's had experience in employment services both in management and on the ground roles in one on one support of people with disability since 1996. 

Mr Kane, you've made two statements for this hearing. The first one is dated 1 February 2022 and the second statement is 16 February 2022. Are both of those statements true? 

MR KANE: Yes. 

MS McMAHON: And, Commissioners, they're at Volume A and tab 13 and 16B. And you're also the co author of DEA's response to the Consultation Paper by DSS; that's right, isn't it? 

MR KANE: That's correct. 

MS McMAHON: Yes, and that appears at tab 15. Mr Kane, could you please explain your role, but, more particularly, the core functions of DEA? 

MR KANE: So DEA is a peak body that basically represents the interests of its members, supports its members in developing their capability and resources for that expectation as well. The DEA Strategic Plan identifies that best practice in supporting and assisting people in   people with disability into open employment is the goal, and while we represent our members, the representation is based on that objective. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you, Mr Kane. And I will come shortly to some of your responses to the Consultation Paper. But if we just step back or outside the framework of reform, just for a moment, should we   should there be a need for a DES system at all? 

MR KANE: I think there is a crucial need for a DES system, and the DES program responds to the Disability Services Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. And those sort of intents are built into how the sort of program is structured and, therefore, the expectation of government. At the moment, the sort of   the impact of attitudes, discrimination   I don't think I have to go into detail, but the impact of attitudes and accessibility, the critical sort of barriers that people with disability face and a DES program is   is fundamentally important for   in that regard. 

MS McMAHON: And you speak about attitudes. Whose attitudes do you refer to? 

MR KANE: I   I'm referring to societal attitudes. And sorry that I'm making a generalisation, but I also refer to the disability employment   the National Disability Employment Strategy that was released last year in sync with the Australian Disability Strategy, and the four pillars that are basically noted in that Strategy, and one of them is attitudes. So in terms of attitudes, societal attitudes, community attitudes, and inside that are, basically, employer attitudes. Without making the note that I think that employers have any particular definitive negative attitude, they're part of the mix of what a community or a society thinks, and those attitudes go to the question of   again, sorry for the broad generalisation in explaining this   but to who gets considered for a job;  what is the value of what a contribution is; and so on. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you for that further explanation. Two days ago, Mr Kane, the Chair asked witnesses from YDAS what the characteristics of a good DES provider are. From your experience, can you identify the features of a provider that best deliver person centred support and sustainable employment for people with disability? 

MR KANE: Yes. So one of the papers that we submitted for this Royal Commission was a report that was commissioned by DSS and basically set up by the four provider peaks in this space: NESA, National Disability Services, Jobs Australia and Disability Employment Australia. And we engaged an organisation, 89 Degrees East, to conduct this survey. And specifically the survey was   and this is part of the reform process   was to do a survey of good practice in the DES program. 

So in regard to that question   and if you don't mind, I might just read from some of things, because you mentioned person centred approach. We think that is the core of what best practice is. The question is, does  the program allow for that to occur as it is understood through the sort of research that has been done in disability particularly. So that's something I might talk to further. But, certainly, good to best practice is a person centred approach; is an individualised approach; is a holistic approach that involves the person, obviously, at the centre, their family or their close supports, the community that they're involved in to basically engage the person on the journey and head in the direction that they identify that they want to go to. 

Strong employer engagement is another critical  factor. Establishing a network of community partners, being part of the community that you operate in. Evidence based approach is expected. A record management system that puts the participant first, a strengths based approach. These are sort of the factors that go into what we would identify as good to best practice, and a lot of that has been sort of looked at through different research as well. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you for your comprehensive answer, Mr Kane. In your statement at 4i, you say this   and this is your first statement, your longer statement:

"Providers are spending a disproportionate amount of time on compliance activities which takes essential time away from working directly with participants."

Are compliance activities compromising capacity to deliver the highest quality of support to participants? 

MR KANE: In that response, one of the things that I also noted which I'd like to cite is that our experience of DES providers is that, despite these barriers, they will offer good to best practice supports to all disability cohorts to obtain and maintain employment. But in the broader sense of the question, the idea of compliance activities or red tape has been a frustration and a, sort of, factor that the, sort of, sector and the Department has grappled with, certainly over at least 10 years. 

The compliance activities' impact on the time available and impact on how resources are distributed   I'm not trying to be semantic in the way I say this, but that puts the pressure on the provider to have quality as the sort of poor indicator but manage that sort of time and resourcing impact as well. But, again, through the sort of time that I've been in the role at DEA, we have seen numerous examples of how providers engage quality while having to be frustrated by compliance that feels like it's compliance for the sake of it, rather than the responsibility of demonstrating that they are applying the contract as it was understood. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you. And do you find from your consultation or information gathering that these compliance requirements are more difficult for some providers than others? For example, smaller providers, not for profits and so forth? 

MR KANE: There is definitely impacts based on   and one of the factors might be size, and there's a process that is being undertaken at the moment that all providers are required to basically bring on board. And that certainly is impacting small to medium in terms of cost and time to get that done. And that's being processed with both DSS and DESE, the Employment Department. And there is understanding from both those Departments of those impacts. 

As we get into the, sort of, the DES program specifically, I don't want to basically make a generalisation that it's harder for small to medium and lesser for large, because different providers, whether they are small, medium or large, have factors in terms of how they engage that compliance and quality assurance, as it's called, in the Department process. They have factors of how they deal with that. 

MS McMAHON: Yes. Has the levels of compliance in some instances led to any providers that you know about not being able to operate? 

MR KANE: No, I don't    

MS McMAHON: Or leaving the system? 

MR KANE: Yes. So I'm going to say, no, I don't think so, because I couldn't give you a sort of example where the specific factor was the sort of   the impact of the compliance activities required. 


MR KANE: But certainly   and, again, this is anecdotal   certainly, when we have talked with providers that have either merged their business or have stepped out of the sort of program, they have cited the sort of weight of the sort of expectations of delivery, and compliance is a critical factor in that. 

MS McMAHON: I see. 

CHAIR: Mr Kane, I understand that the Arriba Group of companies are not members of your organisation. Is that correct? 

MR KANE: The   what group, sorry?

CHAIR: Arriba. That's AimBig, Rehab Management. 

MR KANE: Sorry, Chair. I thought that's who you were referring to. But we obviously use the common phrase AimBig or Rehab. No, they're not a member of DEA. 

CHAIR: Right. That's relevant to the question I want to ask you. Have you been following the evidence of the last two days? 

MR KANE: I have, but not to the degree that I could be across it all. I did watch the witness   the participant witness sort of time, but I haven't been able to watch a lot of the rest, partly because   

CHAIR: I wasn't expecting you to devote the whole of your energies to watching us on screen. But I wondered whether you had heard or seen enough about the BusyBeans program to form the view about whether you would characterise it as person centred. If you haven't got enough information, please say so. I don't want to put you in a difficult position. 

MR KANE: Yeah, thank you, Chair. I think I would say that I don't have enough information. 

CHAIR: All right. Thank you. Fair enough. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you, Chair. Mr Kane, are you able to offer us just a very brief snapshot of the profiles of DES providers in terms of organisation type? 

MR KANE: Yes. It will be a generalisation, Counsel. The   my understanding is that, at this point in time, there's about 106 providers, and they range from small to medium to large. There is a small set of providers that are quite large. There is a fairly big set of   in numbers of providers that are   that are sort of medium size. That   one indicator of that is in more than one State. And there is then a smaller   so, sorry to confuse you. The biggest group is the medium sized providers, the next group would be the small sized providers, and the third would be the large providers. Providers operate across the country in that imagined sense from Broome to Hobart and so on. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you. Now, I'm just going to ask you some very general questions about some operations of DES providers. So is the use of labour hire services common practice by DES providers? 

MR KANE: I don't know that I could answer whether it's common practice, but if I could make this note, that labour hire is part of the labour market, and the provider responds to the labour market. So if there is a factor for use of a labour hire to engage a person in a job, that would be a factor. 

MS McMAHON: Can you tell us why labour hire services might be contracted to DES providers? Some examples as to why it might be helpful or beneficial? 

MR KANE: So there's a lot of positives for why you would have, you know, MOUs or ways that you would work with either a large employer or a labour hire, and that is because a labour hire company may have a lot of   a range of contracts that have a lot of jobs, and, as you know, in some state there are procurement expectations that basically have a sort of weighting for employing people with a disability. So there's a   there's a sort of positive side to that relationship. In terms of   yeah, so that's how I would answer that. 

MS McMAHON: If I could just ask this: if there is a division in terms of, I suppose, responsibility in some ways, does that have the potential to impact upon a person centred approach? 

MR KANE: I think at the core of how a provider operates   and excuse me, Counsel, if I just give a little bit of a description about this. 

MS McMAHON: Certainly. 

MR KANE: But the provider is responding via   to the Disability Discrimination Act via the Disability Service Standards in a sort of accredited quality assurance that is overseen by a third party and is reviewed on an annual basis and has a sort of more direct or sort of intrusive audit every three years, I think it is. And those Disability Service Standards basically spell out a lot of the things about, for how we are using the phrase "person centred approach". 

And I did provide a document that is on the DSS website to the Commission in regard to a sort of checklist, if I can put it that way, that a provider would consider in regard to adhering to those Standards via that accreditation. And there's 42 points in that checklist that a lot of them speak to the capability of staff, the expectations of working with the participant and so on. So the  factor of how a provider operates, their mission, their objectives and therefore how that translates into their staffing, their service delivery and so on, they're the factors that put in place what a provider will do and how they would go about it. So, sorry to give that sort of response, Counsel, but I think the answer about how a provider operates is more related to the way they have structured their organisation and their mission and objectives. 

MS McMAHON: No, I thank you for that response but, of course, it would be the case, wouldn't it, that our knowledge or at least DSS' knowledge about compliance would also be determined by quality of those audits that are undertaken to assess National Standards. Would you agree with that?

MR KANE: Sorry, could you just phrase that again for me, please? 

MS McMAHON: Just noting Mr Kane, in terms of the quality of compliance or the level of compliance with those National Standards and DSS' knowledge of compliance is very much dependent upon the quality and audits of assessments? 

MR KANE: I actually think that the compliance activities sit outside and the compliance activities are more related to the sort of guidelines of the program and the sort of   the way to engage and then  move through the sort of process. The   the program has three KPIs. The first KPI is efficiency, the second KPI is effectiveness, and the third KPI is quality. And effectiveness and efficiency are both tied into the performance framework. So you would be aware   and I think you were talking with AimBig about these sort of 13 week outcomes, 26 week and 52. 


MR KANE: The performance framework and those first two KPIs are directly related to that. The third KPI, which is the quality, is related to what I was just describing, the external accredited quality assurance that a provider must have to operate. But the compliance activities don't intersect that. They might infer it, but they don't intersect it. In fact, the quality   the third KPI, quality, sits by itself outside of how other things are monitored. 

MS McMAHON: Could you please explain to the Commissioners, though, how that third KPI is assessed? 

MR KANE: Yes. So as I have explained, the   there is a third party at which basically is an organisation that has a sort of licence to provide accreditation, and the provider   and I should add, if I can, Counsel, that in the DES program   and I should have mentioned this when you asked about the sort of   what is the look of the DES provider landscape. The majority of providers have been operating DES for at least 10 but probably and maybe even 30 years. And this quality assurance system came into being in 2001. It might be 2000, so 2001. 

And a lot of the providers that are still operating today have been administering to this quality KPI for that time. So it's an external third party organisation that basically provides the accreditation based on the assessment that they do of how the provider is adhering to those Standards. But I guess the point that I want to make, and this is noted in our response to the DES reforms, because there is a lot of conversation about the value of quality in the sort of delivery of service. 

And there's three KPIs in the DES program, two of which have an intense focus   the efficiency and effectiveness. And we don't think that's wrong. But we are concerned that quality is basically answered, "Do you have quality assurance accreditation, yes or no?" And you answer yes and there is no more sort of examination of that. And we would argue   and I think it goes to some of the things that I was listening to over the last couple of days, and definitely in regard to our response and our involvement with the DES reform process   that the third KPI needs to be lifted to give the same value and weighting as the first two. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you. Now, I might just ask also, Mr Kane, whether or not it's common from your observations that DES providers place participants in related entities. 

MR KANE: Again, the best I could offer, Counsel, is anecdotal. But I guess my general response   and related entity, as you would know from the Grant Agreement, is one of the sort of points that does have a set of sort of expectations of the provider. But I guess my answer would be similar to the labour hire, that of and by itself, I don't think there's an issue in regard to a utilisation of a related entity, as long as it fulfils the legal requirements and, more importantly for the conversation we're having, the sort of expectations and desires of the participant. 

MS McMAHON: Do you think that there's any risk of potential conflict in those arrangements, though? 

MR KANE: If there was a potential of risk, I would hope that the Department in its Grant Agreement would have the sort of ability, if something was outside of the sort of legal expectations and also the sort of   the way a person is treated and how that is happening, that the Department would be able to act on that when they're made aware. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you. Now, Mr Kane, in response to the Consultation Paper, DEA has identified assessment culture in your response, indicating that the assessment system is flawed. Can you please explain   and this is at topic 2, page 15 of their response to the Consultation Paper. Can you please explain in what way the assessment system is flawed in your view? 

MR KANE: There's been a long discussion, well before the 2018 DES program started, of whether the assessment process that is operated through Services Australia, particularly, captures the information of the individual in such a way that the determination of whether they flow into the DES program for support or into the mainstream program   whether it's robust enough and whether the individual has the support to go through that process. 

And I won't go into too much detail but just to note that there have been sort of examinations of that through the time. But for the individual going into the DES program, there's the JSCI, either the Job Seeker Classification Index assessment, the ESAt assessment, the JCA assessment and other assessments that they are subject to. And some of these assessments   sorry, I'll just go back a step. And in recent years, as in the last couple of years, the JSCI has moved on to   into an online process. 

So there were concerns about how that process operated when it was a phone call, because we and others have put forward the argument that the individual who already has a   a fraught relationship with government entities is asked a set of questions, and they're a deficit facing set of questions, and there is a pressure on the individual about their payment and, you know, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s and so on with government. 

So there was already a pressure that we felt was more impactful than it needed to be on the individual. And now that it's moved to an online process, it's even harder, we would argue, for the individual. Leading up to the 2018 DES program, during the reference group and reform discussions that took place one of the ideas that was suggested by a number of the disability representative organisations was that a participant required informed choice through this process, including when they make the decision of what DES, if they are referred to a DES, what DES. 

And that informed choice at least gave the individual a chance to think about what was going on and reflect on it with a sort of trusted advisor. Not from a DES provider, by the way, but from a sort of disability support service. 

MS McMAHON: I see. 

MR KANE: So, at the moment, the assessment system feels very bureaucratic and, for an individual, the more bureaucratic it is, the more they are unsure of what's going on and, therefore, there is a likelihood that answers will be given that aren't truly reflective of where they're at. 

MS McMAHON: Mr Kane, from speaking to your members, what is the general view about online assessments for people with disability? Are they acceptable? 

MR KANE: In the broad way of answering this, I mean, for quite a lot of people, an online approach might be a sort of more protective mode. But, again, as a general rule, there is no qualified check on whether that was appropriate for the individual. And when we've asked providers who have given us sort of de identified examples, they've talked about the individual being confused at what was going on and the sort of sense of the process was based on how engaged the Centrelink or Services Australia follow up was. 

And, again, I'm saying it anecdotally, but it came across as very hit and miss. Right? So we would have one example given to us of an individual who said, "I didn't know what was going on but then somebody from Centrelink called and walked through the approach and that made me feel better or more at ease in regard how that was happening." And then another example where that didn't happen and the person wasn't sure and wasn't even sure to the answers that they had given. 

MS McMAHON: Mr Kane, if I could move on to another area that you have responded to in the Consultation Paper in relation to benchmark hours. And, again, this is in topic 2, page 15 of your response. You've described   or DEA has described benchmark hours as inflexible and outdated. Can you explain why you describe it that way? 

MR KANE: I will. It goes back a little bit into a sort of question of the approach that's taken   the bureaucratic approach that's taken to understanding disability. And that includes the DSP. And I'm sure the first witnesses from the Youth Advocacy Service spoke to this as well, and that is, that, it's based on a deficit model, what you can't do, what you're unable to do, versus what is the contemporary disability policy, which is the social model. 

And if you look at the benchmark hours, there's at least nine different settings based on who the person is. But the first one is a determination of future capacity to work which is nought to 7. And that person doesn't even get a shot at going into Disability Employment Service or another sort of   the mainstream. So a medicalised model that has identified a nought to 7 and said, "Well, you can't work", that's the beginning of what we are concerned about. 

And then there is the next layers which are basically the sort of 8 to 15, the 16 to 22, the 23 to 30, and the 30 plus. And there was an initiative included, I think, in the October 2020 Federal Budget that basically was an attempt to stream people away from DES into the mainstream program, and they talked about people that were given the sort of 30 plus hour benchmark. The issue with that is it's basically   the determination, even if I took it seriously, is the future expectation is 30 hours based on the support they will give. 

But the initiative directed people that had that benchmark away and the assumption made that we think   trying to figure out why that happened - that we think was that someone assumed that because you can work 30 hours or more, you didn't need assistance. And we don't think that it's an A plus B equals C argument. But back to the antiquated nature and the inflexibility of it, that's to do with the deficit model versus a strengths based model, a message that says to someone, "You're nought to 7; therefore, you won't be given support." 

And again, we have found   and, sorry, when I say "we", I should say our members have found over and over again that there is no sort of idea. Somebody doesn't wake up and say, "You know what, I can only work six hours a week." Somebody who is put into the sort of benchmark of 8 to 15 might be jumping at the bit to work 25 hours or full time. Somebody who is identified at 30 plus, might be, for the very reason of the fear of what that number looks like, said, "Well, I actually was looking at five hours or eight hours to start with." 


MR KANE: So that's what I mean about the inflexibility and the antiquated nature. 

MS McMAHON: Thank you, Mr Kane. Chair, I just note the time. Would it be a convenient time for a lunch break? 

CHAIR: Do you want   you want to continue with Mr Kane for how long, do you think? 

MS McMAHON: I would think about 30 more minutes and then questions from Commissioners. 

CHAIR: Mr Kane, if we break now, is that okay with you and if we resume at, say, 2 o'clock? 

MR KANE: Chair, I am open to however you do it. So I'm fine. 

CHAIR: Good. Thank you very much. Well, in that case, we will adjourn now. It's about 1.12 pm Sydney time. And we will resume at 2 pm.


CHAIR: Yes, thank you, Ms McMahon. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you, Chair. Mr Kane, I want to ask you now about mutual obligations. DEA have recommended abolishing mutual obligations, describing mutual obligations in job plans as counter productive for people with disability. Can you please explain to the Commissioners DEA's position? 

MR KANE: Yes. Currently in the Grant Agreement, the way the job plan is detailed looks more like an activity agreement than a job plan. A job plan should be outward looking from the participant into their aspirations and journey to a job and a sustainable job. But the job plan as it currently exists (a) is inside the centralised computer system which all providers have to feed their data into. It's   in terms of the sort of activities that you might engage, it basically has a set of drop down boxes rather than being informed from the participant's perspective of what they want and how to get there. 

And it's tied into the Social Security Act and acts as part of the mutual obligation responsibilities. So a job plan in terms of a participant arriving at a DES provider is kind of like the bridge that forms the trust that forms the way forward. And if somebody is completing a form with the participant on the other side of the desk who's probably a little bit anxious about what this all is, wants to get a bit of a feeling of whether this is the right service, and the person across the table, the provider, is basically wanting to make sure they show the participant as best possible that this is a good opportunity, has also the role of the Government cop in making sure, via the job plan, that the participant is fulfilling their mutual obligations. 

So it doesn't start the sort of pathway in what we would call the sort of positive or proactive manner in which, if a provider had the ability to make the decision themselves, would definitely not have the two things intricately intwined. And then, of course, there is, as I have mentioned, that it is part of the centralised system with drop down boxes. So we've been talking and you've been hearing through this hearing about person centred or individualised approach. 

But, in this instance, the individualised approach is context or basically guarded by the choices that are available in the drop down box. Those things, we think, are counter intuitive to how people work together and counter productive for what the goal is for Government, for the participant, and obviously for the provider. 

MS McMAHON:  You just mentioned the provider playing the role of cop in your evidence. What impact, if any, do you see that compliance role having upon the relationship between providers and participants? 

MR KANE: Yeah. So   and please appreciate, Counsel, that this is something that we have been in discussions with before 2018 and continue to be in discussions, particularly as we're in the DES reform process at the moment. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: I don't think it's the responsibility of the provider who has been commissioned by the Grant Agreement to basically assist the person into sustainable employment   I don't think it's the responsibility of the provider to basically dot the I’s and cross the T’s of the mutual obligation responsibilities   yeah, as I've explained in terms of how it actually functions. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. Now, I just have a couple of questions on employment outcomes. You indicate in your, again, response to the Consultation Paper that the DES model rewards speed to placement. Could you please explain what you mean by "speed to placement" and how the current model incentivises this? 

MR KANE: Yeah. So “speed to placement” is a colloquial phrase, but I will refer to the agreement and specifically KPI 1, efficiency. Because while it isn't an actual measure, it is deeply implied and that is   in that implication, that is the incentive. So the Star Rating   this is from the sort of guidelines on the performance framework. The Star Rating assesses the performance of a provider against two or three key performance indicators that are specified in the DES Grant Agreement. KPI 1, which is efficiency   and I'll just read from it:

"An efficiency indicator which seeks to minimise the average time taken by providers to achieve employment outcomes for their participants. Efficiency is implicitly captured by the existing effectiveness performance measures and the regression methodology."

For the sake of this hearing, I won't go into the deep bows of the regression of the performance framework, but    

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. 

MR KANE:    what I will say is, we actually don't have a problem with KPI 1 and 2 in terms of the performance framework, but if quality isn't valued at the same level with the same sort of teeth in terms of incentivisation or direct encouragement, then what you have at play is people responding deliberately to the ones most incentivised at the risk of minimising the one that isn't as incentivised. So the “speed to placement” as a concept is get the person to the job as quickly as possible.

By and large, that's not a bad idea, subject to how the individual is faring themselves and obviously their direction of this sort of assistance and support required. There's sort of research   or I shouldn't say research, but data analysis that DSS can probably speak to that shows that the time taken to get a person to their first job, their first placement or their first four week outcome, is generally within that sort of three to 14 month period. So there is data that they can use to draw on that. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. 

MR KANE: And we support that. But what we want to see is quality given the same recognition. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. Just finally on employment outcomes, Mr Kane, does DEA consider that the current employment outcome fee structure might encourage activities that lead to what we colloquially know as job churn? 

MR KANE: I don't think that the fee structure encourages it. And I don't know, again, the extent of this colloquial phrase of "churn." I have no doubt that it is out and about in there. But I'm not sure that it's as predominant in the sort of way or the manner in which providers deliver service, based on other things that I've talked about today. In   certainly if there were ways to identify that somebody had an arrangement where somebody was working, you know, for the 26 week outcome, and then that job expired and another person could come in and literally do the same job, if those things were identified, we would see that as practice that needs to be improved. But    

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE:    unfortunately, Counsel, I am responding with an anecdotal view, but with the understanding that it is less of a sort of function than gets talked about. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. But in terms of accountability, some of the recommendations by DEA involve stripping back, to a certain degree, some of the compliance measures. What do you think is the most effective way to ensure that if that occurs, a stripping back of compliance, to ensure that DES providers are held accountable, both in relation to the quality of support but also to ensure that they are not engaging in activities which are maximising fees at the expense of ensuring sustainable employment outcomes for people with disability? 

MR KANE: Yes. Yes. So, to begin with, in the sort of issue of the amount of red tape or compliance, I just want it noted that we're in no way suggesting that it's stripped back to a sort of free for all. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: We think there is a lot of compliance factors that are relative and important, and easy to administer. And DSS, I'm sure, can speak to the sort of quarterly quality assurance process   and I'm using quality assurance in a different measure than what I have been talking about about KPI 3. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: KPI 3, yep. So to   there's factors in there that we think are relevant, but there are factors that do seem to be more than necessary. So one of the factors, for example, is the requirement of a sort of payslip on a fortnightly basis to be produced, and we would think that there's probably ways that that information can be gathered without having to go knocking on the door of the employer and saying, you know "This is required on a fortnightly basis" or to the participant. 

I'm happy   if it's okay, Counsel, because once I get started in this sort of conversation, it might go down into the weeds, and I'm happy to supply the Commission with a set of the compliance matters that we are already talking with the Department about, but so that you can have sight of what we're talking about. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you, Mr Kane. We might deal with it that way.    I want to move on to a different topic in relation to transitioning from school to work. What's your experience or understanding of issues faced by young people with disability who are making that transition? Or some of the key issues. 

MR KANE: Yeah. So, critically   and we're checking this at the moment. So in terms of who has responsibility for the transition, because it lies somewhere within the Education portfolio and Education being both, obviously, at a State level and then the Employment or DSS portfolio, we think there probably needs to be work to make that clearer. Because some of the things that are done are things that are responsive   DSS responding to what they identify as compared to what the Education Departments at a State level might identify what they're responding to. 

I do want to cite, if I can, the first witnesses at this Royal Commission from the Youth Advocacy Service who made the point that the   if we just think at a transition level, we're already behind the 8 ball. And the idea of developing the understanding all the way back to early childhood   and that's the long game, obviously   and how families and parents can feel safer and more trusting in the sort of journey of their children and then into developing the aspirations of young people with disability as they're in primary school into high school. 

If those factors are worked out at the same time as what is currently transition arrangements, then we're probably going to get to a better sort of understanding than we have now. But as to the factors themselves, in the DES program, policy was changed in about 2011 2012 that basically prevented DES providers from working inside the school. And DES providers have been working inside the school with young people and the transition process from the origins of the program. 

And that consequently has taken a lot of relationship building away from how things can be done. DSS commissioned Year 13 to do a survey on young people with disability in schools and transitioning last year, 2021. And while it's a survey, so it might not have the rigour of a sort of longitudinal research, it still has a lot of good information that basically can build a better sort of transition model. But what's missing at the moment is the ability to provide effective work experience and lack of supports for people   young people with disability   to undertake sort of work experience or paid work while they are at school. 

Those things happen, but currently they happen in a fairly ad hoc manner and a sort of more developed model would be a better way to go about it. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. Are DES providers or, indeed, DEA doing anything to encourage the availability of apprenticeships and internships for young people making this transition? 

MR KANE: Apprenticeships, traineeships have always been part of the mix of what's available, and it's a thing that works more specifically at a provider level engaging with companies and sort of organisations that provide that. To the extent that DEA does things, our role in that as per what we described as what we do, is to get entities like that in front of our members at things like leaders forums and conferences. And as we note with the Skills Agenda, which is aligned to the sort of opportunities that seem to be opening up with the sort of exit, hopefully, of our COVID experience    

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE:    the sort of Skills Agenda, along with organisations that offer apprenticeships and what our providers do, that's a role that is almost a sort of ordinary part of the way DES does its work. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. Mr Kane, just in the last series of questions that I will have for you in relation to training and capacity, I will just remind you in your statement at 4b, you indicate that:

"DES providers have a  "

In your words  

"Defined training package for their staff." 

Could you just explain what you mean by defined training package? 

MR KANE: Thank you for picking that up, Counsel. If I was able to rewrite that, I might have used a different word than ‘defined’. What I was trying to say in a generalisation was training packages they identify  themselves as per the expectations of how they operate. But what I will say is that in the Grant Agreement and in the quality assurance KPI 3 and in the sort of Code of Conduct, there is implicitly stated expectations    

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE:    of the levels that providers and their staff should be able to deliver at, and providers do operate with that but it isn't a sort of one size fits all. Providers will provide a different set of training, and that will range from certificate level training to basically bringing people in. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. But the bottom line is they are responsible for their own training packages; that's right, isn't it? 

MR KANE: That's right. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. And has DEA conducted any reviews of provider and training programs to assess quality and consistency across providers? 

MR KANE: That's a really good question, Counsel. We haven't gone to that detail, and we may well basically utilise this question in the short term future, but if it's okay, if I could give you a little snapshot of a survey we did of our members and their training and staff capabilities in 2018, would that be helpful? 

MS McMAHON:  Certainly. A snapshot will be very helpful. 

MR KANE: Yeah. Just a snapshot. So in   we had 191 responses to a survey we sent out to our members, and the membership subscription list had approximately 500 people on it, which is roughly a 38 per cent response rate. The qualification of respondents was 18 per cent, Certificate I to IV, and 73 per cent, Diploma or above. And we asked the question: 

"How relevant is your highest qualification to working in DES?" 

And 79 per cent responded, "relevant to extremely relevant". We asked: 

"Do you have a qualification related to working in DES?" 

Noting that there is no direct sort of qualification, and 45 per cent answered yes. And we asked people: 

"What skills training would I need to do?" 

This was heading into DES 2018, and we got responses that included performance, employer engagement, quality servicing, NDIS understanding, person centred approach and things like that. 

MS McMAHON:  I see. Thank you, Mr Kane. And, indeed, DEA has developed a training package, DES Essentials, and the Commissioners will have been provided an overview of that. But could you please just let us know what the uptake has been like with your members in relation to that DES Essentials training package? 

MR KANE: Yes. We've had about   about 30 per cent of our members have basically taken it up and the size, again, à la the question you asked earlier in this hearing, has been from large providers down to medium and small and across the country. Part of the sort of uptake is due to the question you just asked a minute ago that I'd answered in it our sort of statement about "defined" is that the providers have their own operating training. 

But the other thing about the training that we developed   and we did develop it with the understanding of the DES 2018 and reforms that were made at that point to better capture the understanding of working with disability. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. And, Mr Kane, it's the case, is it, that this training package has been developed or at least assessed by people with lived experience; is that right? 

MR KANE: Yes, that's correct. Four people worked directly on developing the program, of which two have disability. 

MS McMAHON:  I just wanted to now draw your attention to your statement at question 4b where you said there is now a greater need to professionalise the sector, suggesting that DES providers and DSS could determine a minimum qualification for people working in DES providers. Why do you think that's necessary? 

MR KANE: The DES program is a mature program, as I've noted. But in that time, the sort of   the understanding of disability and the disability engagement   sorry, the engagement of people with disability has increased considerably. And DEA recognises that it's all good and well for me to say, "We have a thing called DES Essentials which basically has a model of best practice and talks about things like the social model of disability."

It's all good and well to do that. But you ask another question about, you know, what's the sort of training that's provided at a provider level, and we understand that providers do provide a lot of training, but all of this is sort of trying to capture and operate service delivery best practice, but also respond to the sort of   the bureaucratic needs of a sort of Grant Agreement that has all of that sort of measurements in terms of the performance framework. 

And if we're doing a DES reform in 2021 22, it's probably time that we brought all of those things together in a sense to say, "Well, this is what we expect of the sort of delivery." We've heard the sort of things that have been said from participants that have not had a satisfactory experience. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: We don't like   hearing that, but we absolutely accept it. And while we want to say there's lots and lots of people who've had a satisfactory experience, I don't think that's a strong enough argument, and by defining whether it's a sort of basic level of qualification or a set of identified training at a certified level at least, that people that work face to face, directly engaged with people with disability, participants on their program, I think it's time to do that. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you.  And just to pick up what you said a moment ago about listening to people with lived experience, a clear recommendation that runs through your statement and submission to DES is the need for policy change to be based on research rather than anecdote. May I just clarify, when you talking about anecdote, you are not talking about concrete example, are you, reported by people with lived experience or their families? 

MR KANE: So "anecdote" or another phrase that's used is "grey literature". We think that the value of that is absolutely important, but not at the risk of what research can also engage with the same sort of things that are being discussed. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you. Now, just in terms of delivering training, do you see a role for the Disability Advocacy Service and other specialised disability services providing guidance and support to providers as part of this capacity building? 

MR KANE: Absolutely. I would encourage it. I think a more collaborative approach is a really important step, and I might add that that is taking place, but it is in that ad hoc way. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: So if I'm responding to the question, I'm saying, yes, I think a more developed, more understood, more clearly sort of engaged process of leaning into disability advocacy services and working together is really important. 

MS McMAHON:  And, Mr Kane, just finally, I just want to talk to you about people with disability in the DES sector itself. Are you aware of what proportion of people working with DES providers as support workers or, indeed, at management level are people with disability? 

MR KANE: We don't have a sort of understanding of the levels that people work at, but that same survey that I mentioned from 2018, we did ask the question, and we also did a sort of survey of our members utilising an external survey company in 2020. And we have previously asked that question. And the response rate comes out at around 14 to 15 per cent of respondents. 

MS McMAHON:  Right. 

MR KANE: We don't ask the question what level do you work at. 

MS McMAHON:  I understand. Yes. No, thank you. But in terms of any efforts that might be being made by DEA to increase the representation of people with disability within DES providers, are you able to comment on that? 

MR KANE: The   so we don't have a prescribed sort of manner in which we do it, but we work a lot one to one with our members. We attend strategic planning sessions. We attend   we're invited to  attend board meetings. We attend forums that they run. We have a set of points that we make, and quite a number of them have actually been discussed in this hearing with you, Counsel. And one of them is definitely the sort of working more with people with disability inside your own sort of workplace or your organisation. 

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE: So that's the extent that we do that. 

MS McMAHON:  And just very finally, Mr Kane, does DEA support quotas in terms of increasing representation? 

MR KANE: I'm not sure that we would support quotas, and I partly say that because it hasn't been a discussion we've had at board or strategic level. But I will say that targets with teeth are really important. We think that not only should we have targets, including in the DES sector, but those targets should not be that sort of five years away but, you know, we're in 2022. 


MS McMAHON:  Set it for 2025 and make it happen. We have seen, for example, in the NDIA literally set up from nothing and, within the time that it's been operating, the sort of disability rate is over 18 per cent. So it's not like it's not achievable in a short time. And the other thing that I would note is the Job Access program, which I would expect the Commissioners have an awareness of    

MS McMAHON:  Yes. 

MR KANE:    which operates a sort of connection to the DES program but also beyond it, and there's more than 50 per cent of the staff at all levels in Job Access that are people with disability. 

MS McMAHON:  Thank you very much, Mr Kane. I might see if the Commissioners have any questions of you. 

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much. I shall ask Commissioner Galbally. Do you have any questions of Mr Kane? 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thanks, Mr Kane. I would like to ask you about quality and what would the aspects of quality be that you would recommend incentivising, and how would you incentivise them? And you may want to take that on notice, but I would really like to know your views about that. 

MR KANE: If it's okay, Commissioner Galbally, I will give a short response, but I would like to provide more information by taking it on notice. The short   and I'm not trying to be sort of simplistic, but it goes to the point I made about the three KPIs: efficiency, effectiveness and quality. And the quality   I've been in the DES reform process for 2023, and it's been a very robust discussion. And a lot of the things that people have talked about have been about the sort of   what sort of training do DES staff have? Do they understand disability and so on. 

In the   in the Disability Service Standards as expected to be developed to demonstrate quality assurance, that's all in there. So I don't see that we need to reinvent the wheel. I just think we need to say   to raise the sort of value of quality as a KPI. And that in itself will incentivise the behaviour. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: But say take a factor like low expectations of people with disabilities, how would you get that into the quality measure and then incentivise it? 

MR KANE: So the   so, first of all, inside the sort of standards, there is   and I'm not trying to paint this as in a simple or a simplistic picture, but there is expectations of the respect and regard that you have for your participants and so on and so forth. Well, that might be all good and well internal to the organisation, but how does the organisation   and I'm not talking about promoting their own work, "Look at us. Aren't we great?" 

I'm talking about promoting the stories of people that are in work through the sort of skills and attributes and what they've developed in sort of engaging with employment and a provider. The stories tell a much bigger picture and, at the moment, those stories operate in sort of   in a small way in various communities across the country. But I think there's ways that they can be promoted in a bigger way. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: I meant by   I won't go on here, but I meant by "low expectations" low expectations of people with disabilities in their employment capacity. But I will come   my other question was about governance models and whether you have preferred governance models that you think suit DES providers and how you measure and promote that. But, again, you might prefer to take that question on notice. 

MR KANE: And, yes, Commissioner Galbally. First of all, I did absolutely understand what you meant by "low expectations." And my reference, while it might not have been articulate enough, was to say a community or a society has low expectations so telling the story over and over again is part of breaking down the sort of understanding of what a sort of community or people might have of those expectations. I'm not in any way suggesting in and of itself, but that's what my reference was. But I will do a better job in what I provide beyond this hearing. In regard to the governance models, I'm not sure what you are referring to in regard to governance models. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY:  Well, the governance of DES providers and I was particularly thinking about the role of people with disabilities in the governance of DES providers. 

MR KANE: Yes. Do you mean internal to an organisation? 


MR KANE: Yes. Look, I think that's part of what the development of understanding the way an organisation operates. A question I think Counsel asked earlier was, you know, do we know the levels that people with disability   what level of sort of management that people with disability have in DES programs, and I don't know the answer. But a governance model that recognised and basically worked to that is a way of doing it. But as to what you did note, I will take it on notice so that I can provide a more articulate response. 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thank you. That's all. Thanks. 

CHAIR:  Commissioner Mason? 

COMMISSIONER MASON: Thank you, Chair. No questions. 

CHAIR: Mr Kane, is there a fundamental inconsistency or incompatibility between a system that depends upon   a substantial part, at least   private organisations and commercial organisations providing the services and the goal of ensuring that people are treated individually, a person centred approach, which implies, as I understand it, not limiting the undertaking, the work, the training necessarily to a very narrow path, but looking at the much broader picture of what that person has experienced, can do in the future, what the boundaries are? I'm just wondering   it's really a similar question that arises in the NDIS. Are those two propositions, if you like, compatible? 

MR KANE: Are you asking the question, Chair, in regard to a private organisation versus a sort of community or not for profit organisation? 

CHAIR: No, I'm asking   I think it's a little different from that. I'm asking about the structure of the entire system which depends upon the organisation   whether it's non profit, whether it's charitable or whether it's commercial   being paid in order to achieve a particular outcome and the objective that you expressed and that we heard from the first witnesses at the hearing, a person centred approach which implies flexibility, it implies commitment of time and effort. I'm just wondering about the compatibility. 

Now, it may be that it's a more acute dilemma for commercial organisations than it is with organisations that aren't under imperative to produce a profit, but I'm just wondering about whether there is compatibility in the very concept of the scheme. 

MR KANE: I don't think so. As noted by my CV, I've worked in this sector since the mid 90s. I've worked in   I ran a small community service in Northcote here in Melbourne. I've been part of a bigger organisation in WISE, and, obviously, in this role I've had sight of quite a number of organisations. I don't think that's the factor. I think the factor is the sort of   the interest to assist people and support people into employment. 

The   they're certainly not incompatible. I think where inconsistencies may appear   and some of them have been noted in my sort of presence here   has been trying to find the right mix of compliance in a program and performance sort of observation that may then tend to sort of create a way of operating. But in terms of assisting and supporting people into work, as I noted in one of the papers that I sent through to the Commission, the increase in employment outcomes in the last year from 2020   June 2020 to June 2021 was pretty impressive. 

Now, we know that part of the reason for that is that employers weren't able to access employees   maybe international students or visas   and, therefore, there was a gap opened up. But that also told us that people were going to employ people with a disability. So the process, the engagement, the sort of way that we do it, I don't think that is   pressure is put on that by having a sort of paid element to the way   to the fact that the work is delivered. 

But, certainly, we do have to keep sight of what it is that we expect and what it is we value, and that's why I've made a point of raising the sort of value of KPI 3, quality. 

CHAIR: When you refer to an impressive outcome from one year to the next, is there a particular dataset that you are relying on that demonstrates that success? 

MR KANE: Yes. And I provided access to the Commission. It's  the Labour Market Information Portal. It's available for anybody to go to. And one of the tabs basically is a monthly report on the DES program. And in that as well   and I provided this information to the Commission   and that is the reference that in the sort of DSS 2020/21 Budget papers, they have KPIs that they have to meet for program which is a percentage   I think it's 40 per cent 13 week outcomes, and 30 per cent 26 week outcomes, and I think it's 20 per cent 52 week outcomes, and those KPIs were all met. 

So the outcomes are there. The DSS report   Budget report for that financial year says that the   that the program has met the sort of KPIs. And DEA also commissioned or is working with QUT, and they looked at the return on investment of the DES program, and their calculation using the available data was that it has 175 per cent return on investment. 

CHAIR: Investment by? 

MR KANE: Government. 

CHAIR: The Commonwealth? 

MR KANE: Yes, by the Commonwealth, yes. 

CHAIR: Thank you. Ms McMahon, did you want to    

MS McMAHON:  No, Chair. 

CHAIR: I was just going to ask whether any represented party wishes to apply to ask any questions of Mr Kane. In the absence of a response, thank you very much, Mr Kane. Your evidence, if I may say so, was very helpful and very interesting. We are grateful for you coming along and for the material you have provided to the Royal Commission, and we apologise for keeping you waiting in the wings for so long. Thank you very much. 

MR KANE: Thank you for the opportunity. 

MS McMAHON:  Chair, would it be convenient for a 10 minute adjournment? 

CHAIR: Yes, we will adjourn for 10 minutes. It's now nearly quarter to 3. We will resume at 2.55 Sydney time.



CHAIR: Yes, Ms Eastman. 

MS EASTMAN: Thank you.   Commissioners, the final witness is Debbie Mitchell. Ms Mitchell, thank you very much for your patience. I know we were expected to speak to you this morning, but thank you for waiting with us. So, Commissioners, we have Debbie Mitchell with us. 

CHAIR: Yes. Ms Mitchell, thank you very much for coming to the Commission to give evidence. I just wanted to explain where everybody is, in case you're not aware. Commissioner Galbally is participating in the hearing from Melbourne, and you can see her on the screen. Commissioner Mason is participating from our Brisbane hearing room. I am in the Sydney hearing room, as is Ms Eastman, and I will ask Ms Eastman now to ask you some questions, but we are very grateful for the detailed statement that you have provided. Thank you. 

MS MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: Ms Mitchell, you are currently the Deputy Secretary, Disability Carers within the Department of Social Services. And that's a position that you've held since November last year? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: And you've provided a statement to the Royal Commission dated 31 January 2022. Do you have a copy with you? 


MS EASTMAN: And I understand that you've got one correction that you wish to make orally, and then, secondly, I need to take you to a corrigendum that was provided on 15 February. So can you tell us what is the correction you wish to make this afternoon? 

MS MITCHELL:  So at paragraph 15 of my statement, the third sentence which I believe is on page    

MS EASTMAN: Page 4? 

MS MITCHELL:  Page 4, begins with:

"In addition to these minimum reviews, risk assessments are updated."

It actually states "by DES providers." I would like to correct that and say, "Risk assessments are updated by the Department." 

MS EASTMAN: So make that change? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: Now, can I take you to the corrigendum. Have you got a copy of that with you? 

MS MITCHELL:  To be honest, I'm not sure if I have my corrigendum with me. I apologise for that. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you have anyone with you assisting you to access the documents? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes, I'm sure somebody  is running around the hallway now bringing it to me. I apologise. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you have with you a copy of the Hearing Bundles? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes, my Bundles, yes. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. If you perhaps go to Bundle C, behind tab 18, just see if that's where you will find the corrigendum. 

MS MITCHELL:  I think that's probably a good instruction for me to find it there. Thank you very much. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. I need to ask you a question. Mr Moorhouse, who is representing the AimBig and Rehab Management, has got a question just in relation to one aspect of the corrigendum. 


MS EASTMAN: If I can draw your attention to paragraph 6 of the corrigendum   and just so people can follow this, this is where you want to make an amendment to the footnote to paragraph 83 in the original statement. 

MS MITCHELL:  Paragraph 13. 

MS EASTMAN: In your original statement at paragraph 83? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. Yes. Yep. 

MS EASTMAN: Then you want to   as you will see in paragraph 6   take the second sentence of footnote 13 to paragraph 83. 


MS EASTMAN: Delete the second sentence of the footnote and replace it with the words, "Of the 88 services with Star Ratings, there were 23 services with the highest Star Ratings in March, June, September and December 2021, quarters of two stars or below." The question is, where you refer to "highest Star Ratings ", do you actually mean lowest Star Ratings? That's the question which I understand Mr Moorhouse wishes to clarify. If you're not sure    

MS MITCHELL:  I'm not sure. I would have   I'm not sure how that's been written. I would have to take advice. I'm sorry about that. 

MS EASTMAN: That's fine. I think today is a little bit like Senator Estimates. People are taking a lot of things on notice. Perhaps if you could take that on notice. If highest should be lowest, can you tell us? 

MS MITCHELL:  I think what the   I think it's the first   use of the word "highest", I think what they're saying is the highest level of star   they have 85 services that the highest rating they had achieved was of a   two star or below. I think that is how that is inferred. 

MS EASTMAN: That's how we read and understood that. 


MS EASTMAN:  But I didn't want to assume that that was the right interpretation. 

MS MITCHELL:  That's my interpretation of that. If it's incorrect, I will correct the record. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Thank you. Now, just with those clarifications, is the contents of your statement true and correct? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes, it is. 

MS EASTMAN: Now, I think, Ms Mitchell, initially we intended to have a few hours with you, but I'm going try to cover the critical topics in about 30 minutes. So if I'm going too quickly, please slow me down. I can say to the Royal Commissioners that in terms of Ms Mitchell's background and her various roles within the Australian Public Service, that they are set out in her statement at paragraphs 8 and paragraphs 9. 

Ms Mitchell, we have some data in relation to the DES program. Some of the data we have seen in the Consultation Paper released by DSS in November 2021, and I referred to that in my opening in terms of the number of DES participants and the expenditure to the Commonwealth, which I think in round terms were around 314,000 DES participants and a spend over an annual basis of about 1.4 billion. Your statement   


MS EASTMAN:  Your statement has some   your statement has some different data recorded. And if you want to turn to paragraph 84 of your statement on page 15. 


MS EASTMAN: You have provided the Royal Commission with some data that reflects the financial years over the period 1 July 2018 through to 30 June 2021. And, in your statement, you've set out the relevant data by reference to DES participants and also, if one looks over the page, to the expenditure which you will see is in paragraph 88. 


MS EASTMAN: I don't, for this afternoon's purpose,  need to take you through the data that's very helpfully provided in the statement. I just wanted to confirm that the data you have provided reflects financial years, and there are other sources of data that measure numbers of participants and expenditure either on a monthly basis or a calendar year. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  So with the participant numbers that are at paragraph 84, that is the flow of participants through the service rather than a point in time. And with the table at 88, that is correct administered outlays for the financial year 20 to 21 and I   I'm assuming that you're talking about   that the data that you are comparing it to would have been the DES caseload report of 31 August 2021, and that would have been a point in time data. And if it was at August 2021, it's, you know, a bit through a financial year or just passed it or something. So that's   that's why the differences. 

MS EASTMAN: And in terms of the monthly reports, I referred in opening to the DES monthly report for December 2021, being the most recent set of statistics or data that we could see publicly available. I don't know if you can see on this screen, but that report has just come up on the screen, or you have a copy of it? 

MS MITCHELL:  I have a copy. 

MS EASTMAN: And that records to the caseload as at 31 December 2021 as 314,204 participants. So that's the number of participants at that moment in time but doesn't necessarily represent the cumulative number of participants over the course of a calendar year. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL: Over of the course of a financial year. 

MS EASTMAN: Just looking at the monthly data report, DSS publishes this data on the basis of information received from where? 

MS MITCHELL:  From the DES providers. 

MS EASTMAN: And so the DES providers are required to report in various matters of the kinds referred to in the table. So if I can summarise that: A participant's gender; a participant's age; any particular characteristic identifying the participant or job seeker as Indigenous, from a Culturally Linguistically Diverse background, being homeless, a refugee, or ex offender. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  I'm sorry, I'm not aware of where you're reading from. I just   

MS EASTMAN: Have you got the monthly report that was on the screen? 

MS MITCHELL:  I just have the top sheet. I just have the top sheet. 

MS EASTMAN: You should have on the screen    

MS MITCHELL:  I'm sorry. 

MS EASTMAN:     the monthly report. 

CHAIR: Can it be enlarged? It's a bit   

MS MITCHELL:  Yeah, I can't read it, I'm sorry, from the screen. 

MS EASTMAN: See if we can   

MS MITCHELL:  It looks like the same one that I have in my hand. Like   I see. Apologies, I've just found where you've written that. So can I just clarify, it's my understanding that this information comes from the DES providers, as they are working with individual clients. 


MS MITCHELL:  But there may be other areas of data that we   that, you know, contribute to this annual report that I'm not aware of. And it may be from    

MS EASTMAN: This just a monthly report, you agree, not an annual report? 

MS MITCHELL:  No, this is just a monthly report. It's my understanding, though, that it's uploaded every month just from our system. 

MS EASTMAN: And if the DES providers are providing this information, no doubt they are providing information that DSS requires them to report? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes, it's a requirement under the Grant Agreement. 

MS EASTMAN: Can I ask just in terms of the box which you should see enlarged on the screen, Job Seeker Cohorts. 


MS EASTMAN:  Can you tell us what "ex offender" is a reference to and why that expression used? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, it would be my understanding that it is a participant who has been released from incarceration, and there are particular types of supports and programs that we provide to people who have different barriers to work. And so I don't know why it's there. I wasn't   I didn't participate in identifying that that's one of our categories, but that's how   what I would surmise. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. Can I ask you, then, to turn to three boxes on the next side of the page, on the right hand side of the page. 


MS EASTMAN: Under the box "status", you characterise or organise the participants into three groups: Those who have been referred but not commenced, those who have commenced, and those suspended. In terms it of that first category "referred but not commenced", these are people who DSS has referred to a DES provider. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  Who Services Australia, through those mechanisms, would have referred to a DES provider. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. And "commenced"   I think we can understand what that is. Does the reference to "suspended" mean that the DES participant may not have complied with mutual obligations and that has resulted in their suspension from the DES program? 

MS MITCHELL:  No, so mutual obligations   so the "suspended" would be that they have been suspended from the DES program because they may have completed their DES program after the 18 months or two years, or they may have gained employment. It would be my understanding of that term. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. So if we use this monthly snapshot to understand the number of people who may have completed the DES program and are now in sustainable, ongoing employment, they would be found in the "suspended" category; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  I don't know the answer to that. I'm sorry. 

MS EASTMAN: There's not a category that says "exited" or "completed"?


MS EASTMAN: I'm trying to get a sense of what you're reporting and whether there's anything in the monthly reports that give us a sense of who has left the DES program because they have got sustainable employment or left the DES program because they have given up. We don't get that picture, do we, from these numbers? 

MS MITCHELL:  No. And I   I would   I would see that that is a gap in our reporting, because that is the ultimate   the ultimate aim of the program, is to have people exit the program into gainful employment. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. The next topic I want to turn to is some of the matters that you have identified in your statement at paragraph 11. And you've addressed this in the context of compliance monitoring overview. But are we right in understanding that for an organisation to be a DES provider, they have to be able to meet the requirements of what is called the DES Grant Agreement and, associated with that agreement, a range of other policies, including, for example, the Service Guarantee. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: And you've referred in paragraph 11 to something called the National Standards for Disability Services, dated December 2013 and the National Standards for Disability Services Evidence Guide, also dated December 2013. Now, you have provided copies as part of your statement. If you are working on the bundle prepared for the Royal Commission, you will find a copy of the National Standards for Disability Services behind tab 2 in Bundle 3. I hope that assist you, Commissioners, as well. 

CHAIR: Bundle? 

MS EASTMAN: C. Bundle C, tab 2. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: Are we right in understanding that these National Standards for Delivery Services were agreed by the Standing Council on Disability Reform   the Disability Reform Ministers back in December 2013? That's the provenance of these Standards; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  I'm sorry, but I can't see where it notes who this was agreed by in 2013. I wasn't a party to this. But they are nationally agreed Standards, so I would assume that that was correct. 

MS EASTMAN: If you don't know or you are not sure, please tell me. 

MS MITCHELL:  I don't know. 

MS EASTMAN: Are you familiar with these Standards? 


MS EASTMAN: If it assists, if we turn to   and I will use the pagination at the bottom of each page in the middle of the page   to page 7. 


MS EASTMAN: There is an overview of the six National Standards and those are the Standards that are used to qualify and then measure the DES providers. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. And that is through the certification process. That's an independent process. 

MS EASTMAN: If we turn over the page to page 8 at the bottom of the page, there is a description of the framework in which these National Standards operate. That continues over to page 9? And the National Standards reflect the move towards person centred approaches whereby people with disability are at the centre of planning and delivery. Do you see that? 


MS EASTMAN: Then one of the principles that underpins the framework are described as Human Rights Principles. Do you see that? 


MS EASTMAN: And reference is made there to the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. If we go over the page, another overarching principle is described as Quality Management Principles. Do you see that? 


MS EASTMAN: These are principles that describe the core features of a service focused on the quality for people with disability. And then you will see there is some dot points in relation to the Quality Management Principles. All right. Do you see that? 


MS EASTMAN: Now, Commissioners, I know I have taken Ms Mitchell to this document. It is a publicly available document on the Department's website. If we then turn to the six Standards, you have addressed this in paragraph 12 of your statement. 


MS EASTMAN: And you've set out those six Standards. And while there is a quality framework, there's not a specific standard addressed to the delivery of quality services, is there? 

MS MITCHELL:  I think that the whole design of the DES program is   and the   and the Grant Agreement goes to the quality and delivery of services. I think it's inherent in the design. 

MS EASTMAN: While it is inherent in the design, quality is not a stand alone topic or standard that has to be complied with by the providers. You would agree with that? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, it is certainly not listed as one of the six principles. 

MS EASTMAN: As you were saying, I think, a moment ago, that it underpins the system, are you referring there to  the key performance indicators in the DSS Grants Agreement? You are referring to? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, I was making a general statement that I think that it's inherent in the program, but as you would be aware the program   we just completed a mid year program review, and as part of that program review, we did actually look at mixed quality service. That was one of the key areas identified. And then when we went on to have a look at the DES Reform Consultation Paper which has just been out for consultation, again, there's many areas in there. So one of the key areas for reform was about what do we need to do to get quality service supports for   from providers. 


MS MITCHELL:  So we've identified that that is an area that is open for reform, and so we're trying to address it in those two mechanisms. 

MS EASTMAN: Accepting that it is an area open for reform, would you agree with me that the specific standard with respect to quality has not been one of the standards against which DES providers are measured? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, the word "quality" isn't used in those six principles for certification. 


MS MITCHELL:  If I can put it in those term, the word "quality" is not identified in those six terms. But I   the quality of outcomes for clients is monitored through our monitoring of the Star Rating system for   against   for the providers. It is   we look at the data for outcomes for clients. So we look at the outcome payments. We have quite a comprehensive contact and complaints strategy and so, through those mechanisms, we do assessments and gain an understanding of the quality of the service. 

MS EASTMAN: While we are on that topic, in terms of Star Ratings, it's the case, isn't it, that the star rating systems measure the relative success of providers against the key performance indicators that are set out in the Grants Agreement. They are set out in particular at Clause 155.2. I haven't provided you with a copy of the Grants Agreement. 

MS MITCHELL:  I have it before me. So 155.2? 

MS EASTMAN: Yes. If you have got the version of 1 July 2021, it's page 150. 


MS EASTMAN:  I'm sorry, Commissioners, you don't have any with you, but we can provide it. There are   three key performance indicators. KPI 1 is efficiency. KPI 2 is effectiveness. And KPI 3 is quality. So these are   quality fits in to key performance indicators. Do you see that? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. I do. 

MS EASTMAN: If you then go to the next page at Clause 155.3, 

"The Star Rating system will measure the relative success of providers against KPI 2 in achieving outcomes for participants taking part in the program's services." 

KPI 2 is effectiveness. 

MS MITCHELL:  I see that. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Would you agree with me that when you mentioned earlier about the Star Rating system that the Star Rating system is looking at effectiveness, which is really outcomes on the 13, 26 and 52 week measure. 


MS EASTMAN:  But it's not actually measuring quality. So KPI 3 doesn't fit into Star Ratings. Do you agree? 

MS MITCHELL:  As written here in the Grant Agreement, yes, I agree that it's not identified as measuring against KPI 3. However, the outcomes for 26 and 52 week outcomes do have an indicate   they are an indicator of quality outcomes for participants. I still would stand that, you know, an employment outcome is a   a measure of quality. Not perhaps a measure of the quality on the way through, but a measure of quality. 

MS EASTMAN: Okay. Can I come back to your statement and back to the six Standards and back to paragraph 13. So, as you have mentioned to the Royal Commissioners, those six Standards are critical to the initial DES provider certification, but they also form the basis for the annual surveillance audit reports that the providers have to submit to the Department. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: In terms of annual surveillance audit reports, there's a panel of auditors; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  I   I'm not aware. 

MS EASTMAN: Do you know whether the providers themselves can select the auditors or whether auditors are randomly assigned to providers? 

MS MITCHELL:  No, I don't know the answer to that question. 

MS EASTMAN: Is the purpose of the annual surveillance audit reports to identify the extent to which a provider complies with each of the six Standards? 


MS EASTMAN: And is it your understanding that the audit surveillance report should address all six Standards for any report in an annual   over an annual period? 

MS MITCHELL:  There are two areas. It is my understanding that there are two areas that are only reviewed every three years, I believe, which is Standard 2 and Standard 5. 

MS EASTMAN: And what's the rationale for those Standards 2, being Participation and Inclusion, and 5, being Service Access - only being reviewed every three years? 

MS MITCHELL:  I don't have   I don't have knowledge of that. I apologise. 

MS EASTMAN: Is the purpose of the audit reports to identify if there's any areas that fall short or meet that standard of “non conformance”, which is the expression used in your statement? Is that the purpose of the reports? 


MS EASTMAN: And when you refer in your statement to "serious non conformance", what does that actually mean? What would non conformance look like? 

MS MITCHELL:  As I understand it, if the independent auditor has completed an audit and he has found an area of non conformance with the six Standards, then he   they, the audit   independent audit goes back to the provider and works with them to bring it into compliance. 

MS EASTMAN: So it's the auditor's role to work on remedying the non-compliance, not the Department's role? 

MS MITCHELL:  So they work with the Department, I understand, but the auditor goes back and works with the provider to understand the non-compliance. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Now, I think you may be aware   and I hope it's been brought to your attention   but I wanted to ask you about surveillance audit reports that the Royal Commission has received from AimBig Employment Pty Limited. AimBig has provided   or Ms Romero has provided to the Royal Commission extracts   not a complete copy, but extracts of audit reports from May 2020 and April 2021. Now, Commissioners, you will find these in Bundle B behind tab 29 and tab 30. Ms Mitchell, have they been brought to your attention? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes, I have them with me. 

MS EASTMAN: Have you had an opportunity to look at the extracts for both of those surveillance reports? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, I only received them today so I've looked at them briefly. 

MS EASTMAN: If we just   as I said, we only have the summary of them, but with respect to the May 2020 report, it appears there's was no audit with respect to Standard 2 or with respect to Standard 5. 


MS EASTMAN:  Is that consistent with your understanding that those are the Standards that might be reviewed on a three yearly basis rather than annual basis? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. I understand that they are on a cycle of review. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. And you will see, if you use the pagination on this report, page 10 of 32, there's an Executive Summary. 

MS MITCHELL:  I see that. 

MS EASTMAN: Did you have a chance to read the Executive Summary for May 2020? 

MS MITCHELL:  I have read it but, you know    

MS EASTMAN: That's all right. I won't ask you any questions about it, other than whether you have also read the Executive Summary for April 2021, which is the next tab, at page 8 of 34. 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. I have read them. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. And did you observe that, with a few exceptions, the Executive Summary is for the most part identical in the reports from 2020 and the report from 2021? 

MS MITCHELL:  It does seem to be a formula Executive Summary. 

MS EASTMAN: Is it the purpose of these reports to provide the Department formula summaries dealing with the six areas for review? 

MS MITCHELL:  No. We would   I   the Department would want to have frank and clear information about all of the   from auditors. We are reliant on independent auditor reports as part of our monitoring and compliance program. So, you know, I think that the   now that these have been brought to my attention   I hadn't seen these before   I think there's some reflection required in the Department. 

MS EASTMAN: You are aware, aren't you, that the Australian National Audit Office published an audit Management of Agreements for DES in June 2020. That's a publicly available document. Are you aware of that? 

MS MITCHELL:  I am aware. I think I made reference to it in my statement at number 34. 

MS EASTMAN: Yes. And one of the recommendations from the National Audit Office   I think Recommendation 2   was that DSS consider strengthening its approach to managing DES provider compliance. That includes the audit process, does it not? 

MS MITCHELL:  I understand it to. 

MS EASTMAN: Has there been any steps taken by DSS since June 2020, when that recommendation was made, to make any change to the auditing process? 

MS MITCHELL:  So I'm advised   I wasn't here when the change was made, but I'm advised that we   a number of strategies have been embedded into the 2021 Compliance Plans to reduce invalid claims and other things which was part of that recommendation. 

MS EASTMAN: In terms - if there was serious noncompliance or non conformance identified in an audit report, could that lead to the termination of the DES Grant Agreement with a DES service provider? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, there's a number of steps that we would take before we would cease a contract with a DES service provider. In the Grants Agreement, there are any number of processes to go through, whether it be suspension or whether it be ceasing the contract. But we really try to work with the providers and use a process of going back to them to try and help them with compliance and conformance, because the disruption to participants if we close a DES service can be really not a great outcome for those participants. So we try and work through the processes as we go. 

MS EASTMAN: And I think you've told us in your statement at paragraph   Commissioners, I understand   and it's regretful that Arriba has had these difficulties with their internet, but I understand they're presently locked out of the hearing room. I think it occurred yesterday afternoon as well. 

MR MOORHOUSE:  It's Mr Moorhouse. We were locked out but we are back in and we had been able to follow the live transcript, so there is no issue with continuing. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. Can I continue? I'm just mindful of the time. 

CHAIR: Thank you for that, Mr Moorhouse. 

MS EASTMAN: Ms Mitchell, at paragraph 91 of your statement, you tell the Royal Commission that the Department has not terminated a DES Grant Agreement since the commencement of the DES Grant Agreement on 1 July 2018 due to default or non-compliance. So there hasn't been any termination of any DES provider under the Grant Agreement. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: You have set out very helpfully in your statement the other measures that are available to the Department to deal with issues around performance. And I won't take you to those matters this afternoon. I want to move now to looking at this from the perspective of a DES participant or a prospective DES participant. If a person thinks they would like to participate in the DES program, first of all, they have to meet some eligibility criterion. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: And I think there, in summary, are about seven steps that have to be satisfied before a participant   before a person can become a participant. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  There's a series. I don't know if it's seven steps, but there's a series of assessments undertaken for  participants as they enter the Social Security system. And those steps are assessing participants' capacity to go into employment, whether it be into full time employment, or a certain number of hours, or perhaps what their barriers would be to participating in employment. 

MS EASTMAN: And one of the first ports of call, if I can use that expression, might be that a person has interaction with Centrelink and Services Australia. 

MS MITCHELL:  That's correct. 

MS EASTMAN: So a suggestion might be made to a person who is seeking a job that, because of their circumstances, that the DES program may be a good option for them. And that suggestion might come from Centrelink; is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  So   well, Services Australia. Centrelink is part of Services Australia. So, as I say, it's based on the assessment processes. So every person who comes into the Social Security system undertakes a   an assessment for employment about   to identify any barriers to employment. And some people with disabilities have more significant barriers to employment. So they undergo   and that's identified in the first process. Then they go through a further process which really starts to identify what are the best supports for that person, and that's when they will be, perhaps, referred to a DES provider. 

MS EASTMAN: When you  talk about going through the process, that process might also raise issues for any particular person, issues concerning the application of the Disability Support Pension or their involvement as an NDIA participant, or their circumstances as a school leaver. So there can be a range of different other programs that might attach to a person as they make their way through qualifying to be a DES participant. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, if they're interacting with Services Australia and they're applying for the Disability Support Pension, that could be part of the discussion. But applying for the Disability Support Pension and becoming a DES participant are independent of each other. And   sorry, go ahead. 

MS EASTMAN: The Royal Commission has heard in various submissions but specifically at a public hearing   Public hearing 9, when we heard about the experiences of people with a disability seeking to obtain and retain employment in open employment markets, that it can be a very complex system to get into the DES system and then to know how the DES system is going to operate for you as a participant. Would the Department accept that there is complexity in this pathway to even getting into the DES program? 

MS MITCHELL:  I think there's inherent complexity in the Social Security system. So the DES program is part of the broader Social Security system. I don't think the complexity lies in getting into the DES system. It's a matter of being assessed to be   that that's the appropriate support for you and you can be referred to the DES program through that mechanism. But Services Australia have any number of supports to help people navigate some of the complexities of the broader Social Security system. 

We have specialist   well, they have specialist social workers. We have a Disability Advocacy System. There are   Specialist Indigenous Workers. Workers in Language in Services Australia. So, you know, we recognise that sometimes it's quite complex for people to navigate through all those systems, and so there are many supports put in place. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Assume that the person has made their way through the system, qualifies as a DES participant. How do they decide who's the right provider for them? 

MS MITCHELL:  So when they are referred to a DES provider or into the DES system, they're given information about the providers that   in their area, for example, and so that's an opportunity for them to make a decision themselves about who they   who they go with as their provider. 

MS EASTMAN: Am I right in understanding that, presently, participants can go online and they can search up a provider by reference to location   so where they might live. Or it might be by reference to the particular work that they may be interested in doing? And so there is an online system for providing a DES provider   finding a DES provider? 

MS MITCHELL:  I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to whether it's online or whether it's verbal. 

MS EASTMAN: Should the Star Rating system, is that something that a DES   

MS MITCHELL:  The Star Rating   

MS EASTMAN:     participant should be looking for to work out, you know, who might be the right provider for me. 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, I would think, yes. And that's what the Star Rating system is about. I mean, the Star Rating system is to identify which providers have had the most employment outcomes for their participants. So, yes, that's part of their decision making. 

MS EASTMAN: Would a prospective DES participant have access to the annual surveillance audit reports if they wanted to see how a particular DES provider was meeting the six Standards for certification and then ongoing participation in the scheme? Are those reports available to participants? 

MS MITCHELL:  I don't believe so. But I will take advice and correct if I'm told otherwise. 

MS EASTMAN: All right. One thing we've heard about in this hearing is the role of a job coach to assist a person to find employment, and that job coach may also be involved in assisting a person in that early part of their employment. And that links in to post placement support. Does the Department have a view about what a job coach's role should be? 

MS MITCHELL:  I think that the responsibilities of the providers and their job coaches are outlined in the Grant Agreement. But I just can't put my finger on it just at the moment. And I'm not sure if it's identified as the job coach. But it's   you know, the   as I said before, the type of service, the quality of job coaches in the system are   you know, as I mentioned the mid term review and also the Consultation Paper is picking up the quality of service provided by DES providers, and so when the consultation   or the consultation finished on 1 February, and we've received about 150 submissions. I haven't seen a summary of those submissions but, certainly, if the role of job coach comes up, that will be certainly something that we will address. 

MS EASTMAN:  Is there a way for participants   in the same way there is a Star Rating for the companies that operate as providers, is there a Star Rating system for job coaches? 


MS EASTMAN: We have heard that it's not the role of the job coach to be the advocate for the DES participant in the employment setting. Does that accord with the Department's view about the role of job coaches not being advocates for the participant? 

MS MITCHELL:  I haven't ever had a discussion about the role of job coaches in terms of advocacy. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Just in the time that we have got, can I ask you some questions about what happens if things don't go so well between a DES provider and a DES participant? Does the Department have a role in resolving any disputes of any kind between a participant and a provider? 

MS MITCHELL:  So there are a number of avenues for participants to seek further information or to make a complaint. We have several pathways. The main pathway, the main avenue, is through the National Customer Service Line. And so the National Customer Service Line in 2021 financial year, we actually received 34,000 contacts. So some of those contacts would have been around, "Can you please explain to me what my mutual obligation requirements are?" Or "I  don't like my DES provider. Can you assist me to move?"

Or, in fact, it may well be a serious complaint. Or it might be a tip off. So that's one of the mechanisms. But there are   we also have the Job Access website, Services Australia social workers, as I said before, and Department of Social Services has a feedback and complaint line as well. So there are many avenues for people to make complaints or to seek further guidance or understanding of their   the roles and responsibilities of both parties. 

MS EASTMAN: Put to one side contacting the Department for information    


MS EASTMAN:    about   rights or opportunities to change providers. But if there is a genuine dispute between a participant and a provider   and assume that the participant and provider have not been able to resolve the dispute at their local level   what is the Department's role in those disputes? 

MS MITCHELL:  So that's a bit of a hypothetical. It would depend on what the dispute was. If it was a wages dispute, for example, and they rang us, we would refer them, of course, to the Fair Work Ombudsman. If it was a genuine complaint about the type of service, then we have a whole team in the Department who will have a look at that particular complaint and try and resolve it with the provider or with the participant. We have what is   I think I've referred to it in my statement, we have SANs and RNs, and they are the people on the ground who work with the providers on a regular basis. And so if we're seeing concerns or complaints come through from participants, they will then go back and work with the provider. So there are a number of avenues. But it will depend on the dispute.

MS EASTMAN: Does a participant   if a participant comes to the Department with a dispute of that kind, is there anyone within the Department who stands in the shoes as the participant's advocate? 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, I   not as   not a departmental officer, in   as you have described. But there are   we have a number of programs that provide advocacy services for people with disability. And we would perhaps make a referral to one of those advocacy services to support that person. As you would be aware, we're providing advocacy services to people with disability who may be attending the Royal Commission. 

MS EASTMAN: Does the Department have any particular powers in relation to resolving disputes? For example, can the Department require a provider to make amends, to implement any redress mechanisms, to issue an apology or to award compensation? Does the Department have any of those powers with respect to providers? 

MS MITCHELL:  Not to my knowledge. And I   I haven't seen it outlined in the Grants Agreement. 

MS EASTMAN: The last questions I want to briefly ask you is really turning to the future in terms of reforms. Now, the DES program in its sort of present structure has really been on foot for a decade. 


MS EASTMAN:  It was introduced, was it not, with some reforms in 2010 with the National Disability Strategy in 2010. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. And the Australian Disability Strategy has just been released. 

MS EASTMAN: I'm going to ask you about that. Bear with me. Since 2010, there has been a number of reforms within the existing structure. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's my understanding. 

MS EASTMAN: And there was a fairly significant reform to improve choice and control in 2018. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  My understanding is that the 2018 changes were primarily around educational outcomes, but I   I wasn't part of that process so I   I don't know it intimately. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Are you aware of work done by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2016 which resulted in a report called Willing to Work? 

MS MITCHELL:  No, I'm not. 

MS EASTMAN: Then in terms of the 2018 reforms, there was a mid term review, and that was conducted by the Boston Consulting Group which issued a report, which, I think in a redacted form, part of the report is available publicly. Is that right? 

MS MITCHELL:  I'm   I don't actually know if it's available publicly. But I know that it's certainly been discussed at Senate estimates. So (indistinct)   

MS EASTMAN: All right. But you are aware of the BCG review. 

MS MITCHELL:  I've read it in its entirety. 800 pages. 

MS EASTMAN: So have we. Do the BCG suggestions for change   has that informed the work now done in relation to Australia's Disability Strategy released in December last year and the Employ My Ability Employment Strategy, and the identification of the matters in the Consultation Paper? So I've tried to abbreviate by bringing all three together. Did the BCG report influence that at all? 

MS MITCHELL:  Absolutely. You know, the   we had identified that there was room for improvement in the DES program. That is why the mid term review was done by Boston Consulting Group. And so they identified six areas of challenge and they made 61 recommendations. And, you know, so those areas of challenge have been considered as part of developing Australia's Disability Strategy, which was a two year consultation process, and the accompanying Employ My Ability document that was released at the same time. 

And as you say, yes, they were integral in developing the Consultation Paper because, as I mentioned a couple of times, the quality of service has picked up in both of those   in both the mid term review and in the Consultation Paper in a lot of areas. 

MS EASTMAN: And, as you have said, the submission period has closed now for the Consultation Paper, and do we understand that these are matters that DSS is considering and will see, at some stage in the next few months or so, the outcome of the consultation? 

MS MITCHELL:  Yes. Well, we   the Government position is that there will be reform of the DES program by July 2023. So, yes, we're working towards that date. 

MS EASTMAN: To next year. Is the purpose of these reforms to address the stagnation in the labour force participation rate for people with disability? You are aware, aren't you, that it's remained at just over 50 per cent since   since 2000 2001. Is the purpose to increase the participation rate? 

MS MITCHELL:  That's one of the purposes, and, of course, it's a key purpose, because employment and economic independence is key to all people. 

MS EASTMAN: Would you agree with this, that if we look at the DES program over the decade it's been in operation in its present form and in earlier incarnations, that these have not been programs that have increased participation, have they? 

MS MITCHELL:  So from the data that's available, it doesn't appear that they have increased participation. They have, as you say, stayed at the same level. 

MS EASTMAN: If there is to be genuine reform, do you think there will be consideration of replacing the entire DES system? Or will the reforms work with just improving aspects of the existing system? 

MS MITCHELL:  So that's   the reform process will be a matter for Government following the consultation process. And so as I said, I haven't yet seen the outcomes of the Consultation Papers that we've seen. So I'm not sure the significance of how much change has been called for. 

MS EASTMAN: Right. Ms Mitchell, thank you and thanks for bearing with me going through what may have taken a number of hours, but I hope I've covered all the core issues, Commissioners, that we need to deal with. Thank you. 

MS MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Eastman. I will ask, if I may, my colleagues whether they have any questions. First, Commissioner Galbally, do you have any questions for Ms Mitchell? 

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Thanks, Ms Mitchell. I would like to ask about mutual obligations and whether or not there's any thought about the separation of that requirement from DES. 

MS MITCHELL:  Commissioner, can I get to you explain what you mean by "separation from DES"? Do you mean from the providers or from   as a    

COMMISSIONER GALBALLY: Yes. We heard from Mr Kane that it presents quite an impediment to a really positive relationship being established and to moving forward with the job issues. 

MS MITCHELL:  So I listened to Mr Kane's evidence as well, and the mutual obligations is really   a really key important pathway for people to actually achieve employment outcomes. And the design of the DES system is very much around that if we're having choice and control and person centred program delivery, then the person best placed to be supporting somebody with a disability with their mutual obligation is actually their DES provider who's working with them on a daily basis. 

And Mr Kane was talking about the cost of compliance to the providers of managing mutual obligations, and to support the providers support participants through the mutual obligation requirements, the service fee actually takes account of any compliance cost to the organisation. So that's built into the costs of supply   quarterly service fees. So   but I   my personal view is that I think that that's exactly who should be managing it. 

You wouldn't want it to be managed at arm's length. I think that that's inherent to developing an appropriate job plan, because they can talk to the people about their barriers and they can help them manage their responsibilities. Sorry for the long answer. 


CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Commissioner Mason. 

COMMISSIONER MASON: No, thank you, Chair. 

CHAIR: Ms Mitchell, why are the six principles that are referred to at paragraph 12 of your statement not incorporated in to the 200 page Disability Service Grants Agreement? 


CHAIR: I base the question on looking through the Service Agreement as best I can, taking account of the index and trying to work out what it all means. If any human being has ever done that before, I'm not sure. 

MS MITCHELL:  Well, I have endeavoured to do it, Commissioner. I have all the tabs on it. But   so those six principles are embedded in the Grant Agreement insomuch as one of the processes to become a DES provider is you need to be accredited and through the certification process, and the certification process picks up those six principles in that you must be able to recognise and respond that you are meeting those six principles to become a DES provider. 

CHAIR: Yes, but the six principles, as I understand them, are not exhausted at the point of certification. They would meant to be adhered to by the service provider during the currency of its operations. So that's puzzling to me that it's not part of the contractual obligations, apparently. 

MS MITCHELL:  But the   Commissioner, they have to become recertified annually. And so it's reviewed annually, those six principles as part of their recertification. 

CHAIR: So is there a specific reference to the principles in the document? Or is it just the practice of certification that incorporates those principles? 

MS MITCHELL:  I have to say I   I haven't found a specific reference, but I can't say whether it's there or not. 

CHAIR: All right. It's all part of the folklore in there. All right. Who audits the auditors? 

MS MITCHELL:  So I don't know the answer to who audits the auditors. Certainly, we don't audit the auditors. We're reliant on auditors being independent and adhering to all the principles and laws of Commonwealth and State Governments and also under Australian Standards of Audit Processes. So   

CHAIR: Are auditors registered in some way? 

MS MITCHELL:  I don't know the answer to that question, I'm sorry. 

CHAIR: And who chooses the auditor in a particular case? 

MS MITCHELL:  I was asked that earlier by Ms Eastman and I didn't   I don't have the answer I'm sorry. 

CHAIR: Yes. 

MS MITCHELL:  It's certainly an area for   for   for   the Department will reflect on after seeing the evidence of the last three days. 

CHAIR: Yes. Okay. When one sees an audit report that looks a little like an advertisement for the organisation being audited, one might want to ask a few questions. There may be some very good answers to those questions, but there do seem to be some questions that are worth asking. 

MS MITCHELL:  I agree with you, and I will be asking them. 

CHAIR: Very good. Thank you. I take it that no represented party wishes to ask Ms Mitchell any questions? In that event, thank you very much, Ms Mitchell, for coming to the Commission and for giving evidence. We  appreciate your assistance and, again, we are sorry that we have kept you waiting for quite a time. Thank you. 

MS MITCHELL:  That's fine. Thank you very much. 

CHAIR: Thank you. 

MS EASTMAN: Commissioners, that concludes the evidence for this public hearing. I think we were overly optimistic in thinking that we might finish early and be able to present, perhaps, some short oral submissions. However, Commissioners, I think you are going to make some directions in terms of the documents that will ultimately be tendered and also the preparation of submissions. 

CHAIR: I understand, Ms Eastman, that the directions have been circulated? 

MS EASTMAN: They have. 

CHAIR: So all the parties are aware of the directions that have been proposed. Unless any party wishes to say something about them, I would propose to make the directions that have been proposed. So is there anything that I need to hear about before making these directions? 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Chair, it is Mr Moorhouse here. I'm sorry to raise this, but we have not been provided with those. I can imagine we want to participate in the matters that they provide for. 

MS EASTMAN: We will check that, Chair, but my understanding is that all of the parties with leave received an email from the solicitors this morning with copies of directions, and we have certainly received responses from the parties. 

CHAIR:  Are we able to check whether an email has, in fact, been sent? 

MS EASTMAN: One moment. 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Chair, I apologise. I'm now instructed we have got them. 

CHAIR: Very good. 

MR REDWOOD:  Chair, it is Counsel for the Commonwealth. Apologies. I'm just getting quick instructions. I understand there is one matter we wish to raise, if I could have the Chair's indulgence for 10 seconds. 

CHAIR: Do you mean you are going to get instructions within the next 30 seconds or so. 

MR REDWOOD:  Yes, that's correct.

CHAIR:  All right. Is there anyone else who needs to get instructions or wishes to say something? I can hear some mumbling, but I can't actually hear anybody saying anything that I can understand. So does the Commonwealth want to say anything? 

MR REDWOOD:  Yes, Mr Chair. In relation to Direction 3, the matter we wish to raise is in the second line, the documents have been limited to "from the Hearing Bundle". As I understand the communication that was provided earlier in the week, it provided an opportunity for the parties to seek to tender any documents outside the Hearing Bundle. Our position is that we have one, possibly two documents that we may wish to tender that are not currently in the Tender Bundle. 

Of course, we will provide a reason for that, but   so our submission is simply that we should not be   those words should not restrict and prevent us from tendering a very small subset of additional documents that we think will be of assistance to the Commission. 

CHAIR: What I'm inclined to do is leave the words there, but if you have an application that is limited to no more than two documents, you can make that application in due course, and I will deal with it. 

MR REDWOOD:  As the Chair pleases. 

CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Moorhouse, are you threatening to say something? 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Chair, we have two points. We seek   I'm instructed to seek a little longer for the questions on notice, which is the topic of the first direction. We have, on my count, I think five questions on notice to take and    

CHAIR: How much longer do you wish? 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Another week. A second week to do so. I'm not sure, Commissioner, that that intersects with the second direction or slows the remainder of the directions down. 

CHAIR: It does affect that. The 4 March, I think, is a Friday, is it not? 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Yes. But perhaps, then, Chair, the Tuesday of the following week. Something of that order? 

CHAIR: We are moving towards the Monday. I think it's fair enough that you have until 8 March, which is the Tuesday. And that would alter, then, the   shall we make that   instead of 14 March   what day of the week is that? That's a Monday. If we make that 16 March. That won't upset the rest of the timetable, I don't think. 

MR MOORHOUSE:  Thank you. And my other application, Chair, is the same one made by the Commonwealth. We have been suggesting a number of additional documents to go into the Hearing Bundle during the course of these three days to the Royal Commission's solicitors. There are a small number of documents - it may only be two that I don't believe went into the Hearing Bundle, and we would seek at least the same liberty to make an application with reasons as to why    

CHAIR: You can have the same liberty to make an application that's limited to the same number of documents. And by that I don't mean that you staple 37 documents into one and then call them one. I've had enough experience in courts with limits of pages of submissions and then having font that is so small that no one can read. All right. So you can have the same liberty with a maximum of two documents and any argument you want to put in support. 

All right. Well, subject to that, I take it nobody else has any comments about the directions? In that case I shall read them and these are the directions I propose to make:

(1) Any witness who took questions on notice during this hearing should provide his or her answers in writing to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting the Royal Commission by 8 March 2022. The answers should be targeted and concise and not address additional or unnecessary matters. 

(2) By 16 March 2022, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will provide a list of documents from the Hearing Bundle and any responses to questions on notice that she wishes to tender into evidence on a confidential basis to the parties with leave to appear at this hearing. 

(3) Parties with leave to appear should advise the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 25 March 2022 if they wish to suggest any additional documents from the Hearing Bundle for tendering by Counsel Assisting. At the same time, they should identify any parts of those documents that they consider need to be removed before the documents are made public. 

(4) Counsel will tender those documents, including those redacted, into evidence which she considers appropriate and will do that in Chambers by 8 April 2022. 

(5) Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission will prepare written submissions following the hearing. By 8 April 2022, these submissions will be provided on a confidential basis to parties with leave to appear. 

(6) Any written submissions in reply to the Counsel Assisting's submissions should be sent to the Office of the Solicitor Assisting by 6 May 2022. Any written submissions in reply should be concise and should not include any additional evidence. 

The transcript will note the exchanges that I have had with Counsel for the Commonwealth and for the companies within the Arriba Group. 

Thank you. And, in that case, there is nothing more to be done. I would simply like to conclude the hearing by thanking all those who have appeared and given evidence. In particular, I would like to express our appreciation, that of the Commissioners, to Mzia for the evidence   for her appearance and the evidence she gave on the first day of the hearing. It is very often not an easy experience for someone who has lived experience with disability to appear before the Commission. Mzia did that and we wish to thank her for doing so. 

But I also wish to thank everybody else who has appeared before the Commission and given evidence over these three days. As usual, it has been a very full hearing and we have covered a great deal of ground. That would not have been possible without the support of our hearing and logistics people, without counselling and support, and, of course, the members of the Office of Solicitor Assisting, Counsel Assisting and members of the Policy team of the Royal Commission, all of whom make contributions to the conduct of these hearings. 

As I have said on many occasions, these are not easy hearings to organise. They take an enormous amount of effort and skill, and there are a large number of people who participate in the preparations, and the Commissioners are very grateful to each and every one of them. So thank you, and we will now adjourn. The next hearing of the Commission is a hearing on submissions on 10 March 2022. So the Commission will adjourn until then.