Victoria's Public Advocate
The Victorian Public Advocate is empowered by law to promote and safeguard the rights and interests of people with disability.
The Public Advocate is supported by staff and volunteers at the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), including guardians, policy and research officers, advice and education staff, legal officers, corporate and administrative staff, and more than 650 volunteers.
VICTORIA’S PUBLIC ADVOCATE
Colleen Pearce is Victoria’s fourth Public Advocate and was appointed in 2007. Commencing her second term in 2014, she remains committed to continuing OPA’s focus on eliminating abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disability.
Milestones of Colleen’s time as Public Advocate include:
- increasing public awareness of abuse of people with disability through undertaking and promoting research, media campaigns and by leading the development of the Interagency Guideline for Addressing Violence, Neglect and Abuse (IGUANA)
- successfully campaigning for the closure of one of Victoria's last remaining disability institutions, Sandhurst, and other remaining institutions and congregate-care facilities
- instituting the Public Advocate's Award to recognise organisations that are actively promoting and protecting the rights of people with disability.
Colleen Pearce has more than 30 years’ experience managing community and health services in government and non-government sectors in Victoria. She is a board member of Connecting Home, an organisation established in response to the recommendations arising from the Victorian Stolen Generations Taskforce report, and of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. Colleen Pearce’s contribution has been recognised by a Commonwealth Centenary Medal in 2003.
The Public Advocate was established under section 14 of the Guardianship and Administration Act 1986 (the Act).
The functions, powers and duties of the Public Advocate are set out in sections 15 and 16 of the Act
The Public Advocate’s functions
The major functions set out in section 15 are:
- promoting, facilitating and encouraging the provision, development and co-ordination of services and facilities provided by government, community and voluntary organisations for people with disability
- supporting the establishment of organisations that will provide advocacy programs, community education projects, and promote family and community responsibility for guardianship for people with disability
- arranging, co-ordinating and promoting informed public awareness and understanding of the Act and any other legislation dealing with or affecting people with disability
- investigating, reporting and making recommendations to the minister on any aspect of the operation of this Act referred to the Public Advocate by the minister.
The Public Advocate’s powers and duties
Section 16 of the Act outlines the powers and duties of the Public Advocate, including:
- acting as guardian or alternative guardian when appointed by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
- making applications to VCAT for a guardian or administrator to be appointed, or for an existing order to be reheard or reassessed
- submitting a report to VCAT on any matter VCAT refers to the Public Advocate
- seeking assistance for a person with disability from any department, institution, welfare organisation or service provider
- making representations on behalf of, or acting for, a person with disability
- giving advice on any aspect of the Act
- investigating complaints or allegations of abuse or exploitation of people with disability, or any need for, or inappropriate use of, guardianship
- requiring a person or organisation to provide the Public Advocate with information as part of an investigation
- providing information for proposed guardians
- assisting VCAT in proceedings under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 concerning any people with disability
- making recommendations to VCAT about consent to special medical procedures and other medical and dental treatment matters.
There is no universally accepted definition of disability.
OPA operates according to the Victorian Guardianship and Administration Act 1986. Under this Act, disability is defined as “intellectual impairment, mental disorder, brain injury, physical disability or dementia.”
OPA supports adults who are unable to make and communicate decisions due to dementia, cognitive or intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, severe mental illness, and physical disabilities affecting speech and communication.