Newsletter Spring 2008

From the Commissioner

Welcome to our first newsletter. We will be providing you with regular updates of the work of my office and information for both people making a complaint and disability service providers in responding to complaints.

Given the emerging nature of this work it is important that we continue to engage with both service users and disability providers on how to ensure that improved service outcomes are achieved.

This work is rights based and there needs to be a clear focus on outcomes that improve the lives of people with a disability. What is emerging from our conversations with people with a disability is that they see the establishment of the office as a positive step towards being treated with dignity and respect. Equally disability service providers see the creation of the office as an important additional avenue for service users to seek resolution of the issues.

Whilst much of our efforts have been focused on the establishment of the office we have now received 311 enquiries and complaints since we commenced operation on 1 July 2007. The common theme through these complaints is communication that has led to a breakdown in the relationship between the service and service user.

We have also spoken with 1,785 people through regional forums, Annual General Meetings and like gatherings throughout the state, to help raise awareness of the office. In addition we have distributed 10,998 brochures (It’s OK to complain) and had 15,575 visits to our website in the first year of operation. .

Laurie Harkin

Disability Services Commissioner

We are a team of 13 people. The Disability Services Commissioner (the Office) is made up of three units:

  • Conciliation
  • Capacity Development
  • Strategic Development


The conciliation unit includes the assessment and conciliation team who deals with complaints made to the Commissioner. They take calls from the public about complaints and respond to complaints sent to the Commissioner. The team assesses complaints and provides assistance to try to resolve these complaints. The assessment of complaints involves looking at whether the complaint should be referred to conciliation or investigation. Conciliators facilitate discussions and exchange of information between the person who made the complaint and the disability service provider with the aim of resolving the issues.

Capacity Development

The Unit is responsible for providing information, education and training. In terms of promoting the role of the Disability Services Commissioner this includes presentations as well as designing and distributing publications and brochures and maintaining our web page.  The other main function of the unit is to provide support, training and assistance to disability service providers in effective complaints handling - that is to create a culture within disability organisations where 'it is ok to complain'.

Strategic Development

The Strategic Development Unit manages the business, administrative and systems development across the office of the Disability Services Commissioner. This includes financial administration and budget support; human resources; property services and executive services to the Disability Services Board. The Unit has lead responsibility for research and development, coordination of reporting requirements and planning for the Office.

When people not used to speaking out are heard by people not used to listening then real change can be made.
(John O'Brien)

Disability Services Board

The Disability Services Board held its first meeting on Thursday 4 October, 2007.

The president of the Board is Patricia Malowney and the members are:

  • Dr Kevin Murfit
  • Elizabeth Bishop
  • Scott Sheppard
  • Liz Kelly
  • Aileen McFadzean
  • Jennifer Sewell
  • Christian Astourian
  • Dr Chad Bennett
  • Beth Wilson Health Services Commissioner
  • Arthur Rogers, Executive Director, Disability Services Division

The purposes of the board are:

  • To provide advice to the Minister in relation to the disability complaints system and the Disability Services Commissioner
  • Provide advice to the Disability Services Commissioner on matters referred by the Commissioner
  • Promote the work of the Disability Services Commissioner
  • Refer matters relating to complaints to the Disability Services Commissioner for inquiry.
Image 1







Image: Disability Board members at the inaugural meeting of the Board. Top row, left to right: Dr Chad Bennett, Dr Kevin Murfit, Beth Wilson, Liz Bishop, Arthur Rogers, Scott Sheppard. Bottom row, left to right: Liz Kelly, Patricia Malowney, Aileen McFadzean, Jennifer Sewell and Christian Astourian (not present).

Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first and our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other.
(Nancy Kline)

Welcome to our sessional conciliators/investigators

We are pleased to announce the appointment of our sessional conciliators/investigators who will form our inaugural panel. They all bring considerable expertise and experience to the roles of conciliators and investigators. We look forward to their contributions as part of the extended Disability Services Commissioner team. The conciliators/investigators are Carol Grace, Genevieve Nihill, Louise Turnbull, Rho Sandberg, Pam Carty-Salmon, Wal Chudoschnik and Hugh Macphee.

Some of the sessional conciliators/investigators at their first induction session.


Image: Some of the sessional conciliators/investigators at their first induction session.

Information sessions

Presentations at VALID network meetings around the state

As part of the client network meetings coordinated by VALID, we have been presenting information on the role of the office and how to complain effectively. The feedback we have had from those attending these forums are that the information has been very helpful.

Similar presentations have also been given at a workshop run by the Youth Disability Advocacy Services, a Yooralla self advocacy group, as well as service users at EW Tipping, Peter Harcourt Centre and Wallara. We have also conducted sessions with a number of disability service provider’s staff and management.

People at the information session to VALD Eastern Client Network.

Image: Capacaity development team providing an nformation session to the VALD Eastern Client Network.

We can visit your service and provide an information session to your staff or service users on the role of the Disability Services Commissioner. 

To organise an information session you can contact Dina on 1800 677 342 or send her an email

Effective person-centred complaints handling training

We are in the process of developing a series of training modules for disability service providers to assist them in taking a positive approach to complaints.  If you are interested in receiving this training in your organisation please contact Sandra Myerscough on 8608 5769.

Commissioner visits disability services providers

The Disability Services Commissioner (the Commissioner) has been visiting registered disability service providers in the Loddon Mallee, Hume and Grampian regions. The purpose of these visits was to meet with staff from the services and have a conversation about their current challenges and recent achievements. The meetings have provided an important opportunity for the Commissioner to hear about the application of person centred approaches, learnings from service user complaints and other challenges faced in delivery of services.

The Commissioner will be continuing his visits this year to disability service providers in the Barwon South West and metropolitan regions.  These visits will continue in 2009 to Gippsland and Southern regions.

Disability Services Commissioner with staff from Kirinari Community Services

Image: Disability Services Commissioner (DSC) with staff from Kirinari Community Services: Left to right, Laurie Harkin DSC, Yvette Campbell Deputy CEO, Lynda Veres Branch Manager Hume Riverina and Gary Roberts CEO.

Tips on putting in a complaint

What outcome are you seeking?

When you make a complaint to Commissioner you will be asked to say what you are seeking as an outcome form the complaint.

Often people have a clear idea of what they want. Some people are not exactly sure how to state what they want.

Part of the Assessment Officer's job is to help you identify the outcome.

People who complain usually want a number of things. In general terms, people want four things, known as the four As:

  1. Answer - why has something happened or why was a certain decision made.
  2. Acknowledgement - that is, people want to be heard and they want us and the service provider to understand why something has upset them.
  3. Action - people will have a particular change they want to see happen and that is probably what gets written on the complaint form.
  4. Apology - people usually want to get on with things and put the past behind them. An apology can assist them to gain closure, feel heard and get moving to a better future.

If you have difficulty expressing your complaint the staff at the Office of Disability Services Commissioner may be able to help you.

For more information, our information sheet, 'Making a Complaint to the Commissioner', available on the Office for Disability Services Commissioner website ( may be able to aassist.

If you have a complaint relating to…..

  1. disability open employment services
  2. business services, or
  3. federally funded advocacy services

you can complain to:

Complaints Resolution and Referral Service (CRRS)

CRRS is an independent service that assists in the resolution of complaints about services funded under the National Disability Services Act (1986).

Phone: 1800 880 052
Fax: (02) 9318 1372
TTY: 1800 301 130
Mail: Locked Bag 2705, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012

Visit by ODSC staff to EW Tipping

Two Disability Services Commissioner staff (Dina Theodoropoulos and Sandra Myerscough) recently visited EW Tipping disability services.

They got first hand experience of person-centred practice. After meeting with the CEO Richard Dent, they visited two services (Gyton and Frankston).

We would particularly like to thank Melissa, Wayne, Joel and Brett for sharing their lives with us. It was great to see how they are enjoying their lives. Congratulations to everyone at EW Tipping for taking the time to show us the work they are doing.

Image of Dina, Sandra from the Disability Servcies Commissioner and Kim from EW Tipping

Image: Left to right: Dina, Sandra, from the Disability Services Commissioner, and Kim, from EW Tipping.

For any matters relating to the newsletter you can contact Dina Theodoropoulos by email or call on 1300 728 563.

Accessible formats

You can download the Newsletter in PDF:
pdf iconSpring Newsletter 2008 (PDF 454KB)


If you would like information in accessible formats, please contact us.

Requests for hard copies

Hard copies of publications and resources can be obtained from the Commissioner's office.

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14 July, 2011