• Annual Report 2020

    AQA Victoria Ltd

Chair and CEO Report


To misquote Charles Dickens: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times ... it was the winter of despair, it was the spring of hope.”

We present our Annual Report for 2020, this year in the context of a once in 100-years global pandemic that has cost some people dearly, has changed the way we go about our lives, and has challenged our thinking about what’s important and what’s possible.  

Our Annual Report is an opportunity to share the significant achievements of the year and report on the progress of strategic objectives that advance our purpose as an organisation.

We know that all our achievements result from the creativity and effort of our people, and so we often finish by thanking our staff and volunteers, our Directors, and our Board Committees, for the contributions they have made throughout the year.  

This year we’d like to open our report by acknowledging our people. 


We want to offer our heartfelt thanks to our community-based support workers. Early in the pandemic, the services our support workers provide were officially recognised as essential, and then as permitted services. However “permitted” does not mean continuing as normal.

All our staff, and particularly our support workers operating in their communities across Victoria, needed to deal with waves of information and directives, at times changing day to day, that related to CoVid Safe Protocols, use of PPE, requirements to carry permits, and requirements to get tested, while also reassuring our clients and working in partnership with them to determine how supports could be delivered safely.


As we moved into Stage 3 and then Stage 4 CoVid-19 restrictions, when community anxiety levels were at their peak, and the clear message to the general community was to Stay at Home, our support workers continued to step outside their homes to deliver these essential supports to our clients.


While demand for some supports reduced due to CoVid restrictions, in the 2019-20 year our support workers across Victoria delivered more than 240,000 hours of essential support to people; resourcing those people to live their best lives.


We also want to acknowledge the creativity and efforts of our people in coordinating, administration and leadership roles, who coordinated our response to emerging and changing advice and requirements for CoVid Safe Plans and Protocols, mandated PPE and permits, and working from home.

We want to acknowledge that for all our people the challenge of CoVid-19 is something experienced not just at work but equally at home, with personal concerns about our family, friends and local community.

Our people have achieved remarkable things, often within impossible timelines, and have done so calmly and positively, seeking out the opportunity to play a part.


The period 2019–2023 represents a strategic window where AQA is investing in the capabilities and capacity of the organisation, in order to benefit those clients and community we will serve across the next 10‐15 years.


This commenced in 2019 with the investment in a new office environment in Fairfield that is enabling us to grow and develop a service culture based on collaboration and partnership. That has been followed by a review of our Strategic Direction and the Governance and Assurance framework that will support that Direction, and with the launch of our ambitious Digital Transformation Program.


In short, our Strategic Intent (2019–2023) is to Scale our Impact, by Empowering Our People, Empowering our Clients, and Building our Sustainability. 


Earlier this year, as the pandemic emerged, we adopted a simple motto, challenging ourselves to Maintain Momentum, Emerge Stronger. This has meant that while we adjusted many aspects of our operations and strategic objectives, our investment in key projects and in building the capabilities and capacity of our people have all continued.


This simple motto has kept us option-thinking, adjusting the way we do things and looking for new ways in which we can respond to and support our clients and community.


We’d like to highlight a number of the investments in building our capabilities, many of which are described further in this report.


We have progressed the Digital Transformation Program into the implementation phase, toward a cloud based, integrated Client Relationship Management, Recruiting, On boarding, Rostering, Payroll and Finance system.

This will make AQA easy to transact with, create efficiencies by replacing manual processes, enable more effective coordination and support to our workforce, and connect all our people with a whole-of-AQA approach. The full functionality of this system is planned to go live by June 2021, while some elements of the integrated solution have already been introduced to improve current systems and processes.


We launched a new eLearning platform called AQA etrainu, which will support our staff to maintain required certificates and clearances, and to access online training modules. We have done this in order to engage and develop our workforce, and as part of assuring our clients that services are being delivered by staff who are suitably prepared and supported.

Our People & Culture team has been strengthened with a number of new roles. They include a Safety & Culture Coordinator, to drive Safety across the organisation, strengthen our OHS processes and compliance assurance, and utilise future digital capacity to support our clients and workforce. We now have a Digital Learning Coordinator, to support our people as they engage with and utilise the upcoming digital tools, and an Engagement & Learning Coordinator, to connect the needs of our clients with the way we prepare our staff.


We increased the hours of our Practice Leader in Coaching & Development, to drive the development of our Peer Coaching approach and to share those Coaching principles across all our client-facing staff.


In our Services team we have increased our NDIS Support Coordination and Peer Coaching capacity, with additional hours for staff with lived experience of Spinal Cord Injury.


Our Rostering team has increased its span of hours, enabling us to respond directly to unplanned interruptions to services outside of business hours and to improve advanced rostering. The introduction of a Scheduling Optimisation Planner, working closely with Rostering and Recruitment, has improved support workers’ average hours worked, in order to create more meaningful hours of employment.


We welcomed a new Brand, Communication and Marketing Coordinator to build our brand strategy, tell the whole AQA story, ensure we communicate strategically, and to drive communication and content marketing using our digital capacity.

We have also launched a Strategic Investor project, in order to attract investors in our purpose and social impact that will accelerate our growth and development. To date this has resulted in us achieving several capacity-building grants from the Transport Accident Commission and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Information Linkages & Capacity program.

Finally, in a year that was always going to be challenging as we progressed our strategic agenda, and was then affected by the CoVid-19 pandemic, it is pleasing to report a strong end of year financial result for the organisation, details of which are available in the full financial statements.

In what has often felt like the winter of despair, our people have maintained momentum and have created the opportunity to emerge into the spring of hope. We encourage you to look through our Annual Report 2020, to get a sense of the progress we've made in expressing our purpose. 

Board Chair Michelle O'Sullivan.
CEO Peter Trethewey.


The year in review

What a year 2020 has been! The AQA community responded to the CoVid-19 crisis with commitment and courage.  View the challenges and highlights as captured in our AQA 2020 Celebration video diary. 

Community Networks gather remotely

When Victoria's CoVid-19 lockdown prevented us from meeting in person, we took our Community Networks online - and extended their number and range. 

See our Community Networks in action

AQA Portal opens for business

A global pandemic threw some sand into the gears of our Digital Transformation Project, and yet spurred us to accelerate the roll-out of key elements. Among those were the AQA Portal, which our community-based support workers can already use to indicate their availability for additional shifts.

Watch an overview of the AQA Portal

Peer Coaching starts with wheelchair skills 

AQA is building a Peer Coaching program in which trained coaches work with people negotiating a range of challenges. 

Find out more about Peer Coaching

Key Numbers


Average number of client visits, per day


Hours of in-home and in-community service


Hours of Support Coordination (NDIS)


Peer resourced information requests


Active peer mentors and other volunteers


Peer support engagements


Services extended and strengthened

We've embarked on development of an Allied Health service, an initiative led by Emma O'Brien, and we've added depth to our rapidly growing NDIS Support Coordination service, which will draw strength from the skills and lived experience of Georgina Fiorentino. Find out more about these initiatives from our 2020 Celebration video and in the October 2020 edition of NewsLink.


Discovering the Power in Me

In 2020 for the first time we offered our personal development workshop Discovering the Power in Me as a fundable course - and delivered a successful program remotely.

Paralympics two-time gold medallist Ryley Batt, OAM, was a special guest, sharing how goal-setting helps him follow his dreams.

Learn more about Discovering the Power in Me
"DPM has helped me to be more goal oriented, how to pursue that goal and be more assertive with others about how I am going to achieve that goal."

"DPM opened my eyes to seeing that I am worthy of being successful in life & not to let my injury hold me back to what I want to achieve in my life."

Employee Snapshot

Community staff: 423

Years of service:

Less than five - 377.

Five to ten - 30.

More than ten - 16.

Office staff: 38

Years of service:

Less than one - 13.

One to five - 18.

More than five - 11.

People & Culture


Like nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals, disability support workers have delivered essential services throughout the CoVid-19 pandemic. Their role has been vital.


Despite all the restrictions on movement, our support workers continued to provide the services required.


Complying with emerging requirements from the State Government, our mobile workforce was soon armed with Permitted Worker Permits, masks, and other protective equipment required to undertake their important work.


A thank-you video that compiled contributions from clients and office staff, and with an original sound track written and performed by AQA staff member Olivia Little, showed the depth of appreciation for our support workers and was very well received.


Over recent months, the People &Culture team identified an opportunity to connect personally with each of our support workers. The aim of this formidable undertaking was to check on how each staff member was feeling about the pandemic and their particular situation, and to help or clarify as required. This this outreach has been received gratefully and graciously.


When the pandemic hit, AQA already had a virtual private network (VPN) in place that allowed many people to work from home. It soon became apparent that more was required to enable comparable productivity, and just as importantly connectivity with each other.


AQA was already on a pathway to introduce new cloud-based and mobile systems throughout the organisation. CoVid-19 meant the team needed to rapidly deploy technology that had been planned for later in 2020 and 2021.


When we entered 2020, AQA was heavily reliant upon the Microsoft email and office suite and face to face meetings. As we approach the end of 2020 we now use Google mail and calendar, virtual whiteboards, chat functions, and video conferencing from Google, Zoom and Zoho. We have moved many of our document and media libraries from an in-office server to the Cloud, so that we can access them from anywhere.


Working from home on a close to full-time basis generates challenges of disconnection and isolation that technology has helped us to overcome. Staff have maintained personal connection through remote group meetings, one-on-one informal video chats, and humorous remote office catch-ups.


AQA, as a provider of disability services, is required to hold a range of documents and certificates for every support worker as evidence that each is approved to deliver services. As AQA transitions to new technology, the time was right to ensure all these documents were current and accessible.


The People & Culture team has worked with each AQA support worker to ensure that our records are up-to-date and that our support workers have the skills and certificates they need to undertake this important work with our clients.


During 2021, all AQA staff and clients will have a different way of engaging with AQA. Gone will be the days of paper rosters and paper timesheets being mailed out once a fortnight, phone calls to the office to change a shift, etc. All this will be done through the AQA Portal and via a mobile phone or tablet.


During 2019 and 2020, the development work and testing has been under way. As a prequel to the AQA Portal, support workers and the rostering team now lodge all available shifts in the portal. This means a vacant shift can be posted by the rostering team and a support worker can opt to work that shift through the portal. 

Similarly, if a support worker is available for more work, they simply identify this through the portal - thus allowing the rostering team to allocate them to a corresponding vacant shift. What used to take multiple phone calls now take seconds.


Also available now, through the Portal, is AQA’s Learning Hub (our inaugural Learning Management System). From here staff can access training assigned to them, and undertake additional training, with all the completion records being maintained in a central place. A truly exciting development.


On a final note, I’d like to express some heartfelt thanks.

  • To the People and Culture team (which grew from just two members to six over the course of this year), my humble appreciation of your enormous contributions to this year’s success of AQA. Massively proud!
  • To the Office Administration and Reception team – throughout this pandemic you have continued to support the smooth running of the office. Quiet achievers!
  • To the office-based staff – what a year! As we returned from various summer holidays earlier this year, who would have predicted what 2020 had in store for us. Every person responded with dignity, care and a healthy sprinkling of humour to the rapidly emerging and changing requirements. As time went on we drew strength from one another and supported each other to not only maintain the usual momentum of our work, but to also emerge a stronger and more resilient organisation.
  • To my colleagues on the Business Leadership Team – what a ride! There can be no disputing the magnitude of this past year. The support, the challenging, the professionalism, are very much appreciated. Together we are stronger!

    Finally, and by no means least, I would like to express my deep and sincere appreciation for the continued efforts or our support worker workforce. Your commitment to the delivery of high quality supports to AQA clients is inspirational.

    Kyla Evans
    Executive Manager, People & Culture


Enjoy the Thank-You video that AQA staff and clients produced to show appreciation for the commitment of support workers.

New ways to chat

An instant-message tool arrived with the accelerated roll-out of cloud-based software that helped office staff collaborate remotely.

Digital Transformation Program


CoVid-19 has brought about a radical change to how people interact engage and transact with businesses. AQA has been no different, and in a way this has redefined what Digital Transformation means to us.


AQA's Digital Transformation continues to track successful implementation of the following for our Go-Live (Phase 1): Rostering, Payroll, Finance, and CRM. Per current planning we anticipate our go live to be mid-2021. 

While there have been delays and timeline push-outs due to the pandemic, here is a snapshot of what we have been able to accomplish so far.


Zoho WorkDrive was the first cab off the rank to address the emerging and pressing need, at the start of the shut-down period, for secure and reliable access to all folders and documents that everyone was so used to on the local AQA hard drives.

We moved all our folders and files onto the WorkDrive platform, which meant a new discovery for us to understand how Cloud solutions work and the potential they have for us in our journey

Soon after we deployed WorkDrive we rolled out Zoho's Social platform for communication and engagement. We deployed Cliq, an instant messaging tool, and Connect, a whole-of-office discussion tool. 

Users have taken these up really well and they have become a standard means of communicating and engaging with individuals, groups, or teams.

We have designed and developed our Recruitment Application. This system is in the testing phase.

We identified a dual need to accelerate our process of identifying a suitable support worker to fill in available shifts, and to encourage  users to register themselves on the AQA Portal - thereby enabling efficient change management and communication as we deploy our solution.


The Support Worker Availability Tool on the AQA Portal now collects this information from our staff in a meaningful manner, to make it easier for the rostering team to shortlist the right people for vacant shifts. All of our support workers now have access to the portal.


AQA has migrated to Google Workspace for email, documents and remote meeting requirements. 

This was a significant move. We transferred from an on-premises email system that required staff to use a VPN to access emails and calendars, to an all-in-the-cloud solution. 

Users are now able to access all of their emails and calendars, and to collaborate with individuals and teams via face-face meetings, with only an internet connection.

The following implementations are currently in progress and teams are actively working on solution design and build.


Workforce management solution to address our rostering and scheduling requirements.

Dayforce Onboarding 

A solution for onboarding a new staff member and collecting all relevant information securely and efficiently to be compliant as an employer for issuing work requests. For example taxation, superannuation and banking details 

Dayforce Payroll

Payroll solution for managing more efficiently all our payroll processes.

Zoho CRM

Our customer relationship management platform to record, monitor and manage the customer journey efficiently

Zoho Finance

Our finance solution for efficiently recording and managing all our billing and account keeping processes.

Tushar Kelkar

Program Manager, Business Transformation


Peer mentors and other volunteers play big roles

At AQA, volunteers play a huge part in  what we do. We are fortunate we have a wide range of volunteers - with and without a disability - who support us in various ways. They are passionate about the work they do.

Not only do we rely on volunteers with lived-experience of disability, we also have volunteers with specific skills such as video editing, website development, and journalism.

Having a spinal cord injury or other challenging condition, from either a traumatic or a non-traumatic event, can change your life forever. You may feel like all your dreams have gone out the door. You don’t know what tomorrow will look like. This is where our volunteer peer mentors step in.

Our peer mentors are put through a training program developed in partnership with the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre. Peer mentors have a spinal cord injury and have returned to their communities. 

They can share their experiences of independence, returning to work, school, travel, relationships, equipment modifications and sport, to name a few.

Our mentors visit people with newly acquired spinal cord injuries as they go through rehabilitation, sharing information and helping people with motivation, encouragement and guidance. This relationship continues after the peer returns to his or her community.

Learn more about volunteering with AQA

Video support: Richard Balsille

The speed and story judgment of video producer and editor Richard Balsille were in even greater demand than usual this year, as we sought to connect the AQA community while under lockdown.

Richard has been working with AQA for more than five years, having begun in 2015.

"In this time, I have met some amazing and truly inspiring people, and it is a great privilege to know them and to help share their stories," Richard says.

Tech strength: Emmanuel Tissera

AQA is proud to have support from website developer Emmanuel Tissera, who more than five years ago built the AQA Spire website.

This year, Spire platform Umbraco added Emmanuel to its list of Most Valuable People, making him one of just 61 MVPs worldwide.

"I still spend way too much time on the Spire site because it is very inspirational," he says. 

Our Board

Michelle O'Sullivan
BSW, Social Work; Grad Dip Rehab; Mast App.Sc, ISM​​
Convenor of Governance Committee

Michelle has worked in Government, NFP and community health, and has an interest in the role community has to play in health management and engagement. Michelle also has a sound background in industrial relations from both management and union perspectives. Michelle is experienced in not-for-profit governance, organisational development, employee management, and State Government compliance. Currently Michelle is Director, Organisational Transformation, at MIND Australia.

Board member since April 2013

Dave Jacka 
Member of Quality & Risk Committee

David is experienced working in consultancy and government sectors across engineering, project management and governance disciplines and is currently an SCI Peer Support volunteer, motivational speaker and adventurer. Living with SCI since 1988, David has competed at the Paralympics in wheelchair rugby, flown solo around Australia, and paddled the 2226 km length of the Murray River in a kayak. David was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his contribution to people with a disability through sport.

David is passionate about challenging community perceptions of what a person with a disability can achieve by doing things differently, through the design of innovative engineering solutions or engaging the support of people within the community to help achieve his adventures.

Board member since May 2017

Kylie Thitchener 
Convenor of Quality & Risk Committee

Kylie is the Director of Quality and Patient Safety at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She works with Peter MacCallum stakeholders to implement strategies to reduce the frequency of preventable adverse events. Kylie is a health care professional who specialised in clinical governance and enterprise risk management in the acute health sector. With extensive experience in both the clinical and non-clinical environments including project management, quality improvement, leadership and management of teams, Kylie strives to utilise teams to improve service delivery aimed at providing better health outcomes and experiences for patients. Kylie began as an emergency nurse before focusing on risk management. She holds a Masters in Health Services Management and has worked in hospitals in Australia and the United States.

Board member since July 2019

David Schreuder 
B.Sc/LLB (Victorian Legal Practising Certificate 2020)
Company Secretary; Member of Quality & Risk Committee

David has extensive legal, regulatory and compliance experience across the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Australia and the United Kingdom. David is Director of the Housing Registrar, and responsible for the regulation of community housing providers in Victoria.

Board member since March 2014

Alexia Myrtle 
B.Nut.Diet (Monash), MBA (MBS)​​
​Member of Strategy Committee

Alexia is a management consultant who specialises in organisational change and design. Alexia is experienced in working in the health, education and finance industries. Prior to consulting, Alexia worked in health care for eight years in Australia and the UK.

Board member since September 2017

Joe Rose'Meyer 
​Convenor of Strategy Committee

Joe has a background in Sales, Marketing, Value Based Commercialisation and Strategy Development and Implementation. He has worked for large FMCG Retailers and Manufacturers including Coles Myer, SPC Ardmona and Coca-Cola Amatil. He has been President of SMART Networking Group and is currently National Sales Manager with a food manufacturer. Joe holds a Masters of Business Management and a Diploma of Business Marketing.

Board member since July 2019

Alasdair McMillan 
MBA (Exec)
Convenor of Finance & Audit Committee

Alasdair is a large-enterprise commercial leader and strategist, with diverse experience working across industries such as FMCG, pharmaceutical, marketing data, IT, venture capital, professional consulting and SME. 

Alasdair has commercial whole-of-business awareness and an ability to provide strategic solutions. He is a recognized expert in marketing and pricing strategies that give win/win outcomes for consumers, retailers and producers alike. He has extensive experience as a member of the key management team in whole-of-enterprise strategy development and implementation.

Board member since December 2019

Our Partners

Funding bodies

  • National Disability Insurance Agency – individual support packages to people with disabilities
  • Transport Accident Commission – individual support packages to people with disabilities, and innovation project funding

Industry and Project Associates

  • Austin Health - Victorian Spinal Cord Service
  • Alfred Health - Caulfield General Medical Centre
  • Transport Accident Commission
  • Independence Australia
  • Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (NSW)
  • Spinal Life Australia (QLD)
  • Paraquad NSW
  • Paraquad South Australia
  • Paraquad Tasmania
  • Disability Sport & Recreation

Industry and Project Associates, cont.

  • LaTrobe University
  • Monash University
  • Swinburne University
  • Wendy Brooks & Partners
  • Workwell
  • Global Leadership Foundation

Legal Services

  • Clayton Utz

Event sponsors

  • Miles Real Estate
  • Hollister

Corporate Supporters

  • Hollister
  • Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

Financial Report

The Full Financial Reports for the financial year 2019/20 including a summary of significant accounting policies, other explanatory notes and declaration from Directors and Auditors are located on the AQA website.