Our people

The small team at the MDI work closely together to strengthen and spark interdisciplinary research into disability related issues. They are committed to translating research into policy and practice.

Bruce Bonyhady

Professor Bruce Bonyhady AM

Executive Chair and Director
Enterprise Professor, Disability Economics

Professor Bonyhady is a disability reformer, economist, one of the key architects of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and was the inaugural Chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) from 2013 to 2016. Professor Bonyhady began his career in the Australian Treasury and also worked in economic consulting, funds management and insurance in Australia and the UK, before becoming a non-executive director. His non-executive roles include President of Philanthropy Australia (2006-13). Professor Bonyhady is the father of three adult sons, two of whom have disabilities and in the 2010 Queen's Birthday Honours, he was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia for services to people with disabilities, their families and carers, and to the community as a contributor to a range of charitable organisations.

Kirsten Deane

Kirsten Deane

General Manager, Melbourne Disability Institute

With more than 15 years of experience in the disability sector and a background in research, policy, advocacy, campaigning and communications, Kirsten brings lived experience, passion, commitment and resilience to driving disability policy and practice change, underpinned by a deep commitment to co-design.

As a strategic and dedicated leader, Kirsten has been a powerful advocate through Every Australian Counts (EAC), the grassroots campaign that fought successfully for the introduction of the NDIS. With her ability to bring people together and her clear communication skills, Kirsten played a critical role in building political and public support for this world-leading reform. Since then, she has continued to push for the NDIS to achieve its original vision.

Kirsten has also worked as an executive director at the National Disability Insurance Agency and served on numerous ministerial councils and advisory committees, including Co-Chair and Deputy Chair of the National People with Disability and Carer Council.

  • Campus: Parkville
Rob Carter

Emeritus Professor Rob Carter

Chair,  Disability Economics

Rob has taken up the new Chair in Disability Economics in the Melbourne Disability Institute (MDI), created with the support of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. He has extensive experience in economic evaluation and health services research across a wide range of settings. He retired as an ‘Alfred Deakin Professor’ in late 2019 from Deakin University but continued his research interests, particularly in the economics of disability. This included research collaborations with the University of Melbourne involving a CI role on two NHMRC CREs in Cerebral Palsy (led by Professor Dinah Reddihough of the Murdoch Children’s Hospital) and an NHMRC Partnership Grant with Yooralla focused on health service design (led by the late Professor Elizabeth Waters). Rob has held a number of senior research positions in his career, including being Foundation Head of Deakin Health Economics (2006-2019); Director of the University of Melbourne Health Economics Group (2000-2006); Deputy Director of the Monash University Health Economics Unit (1993-1999); and Head of the economics team within the Technology Assessment Branch at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1990-1993). Prior to joining the AIHW, Rob was a senior commonwealth public servant, including a period as Senior Private Secretary in then Senator John Button’s Office. Rob has extensive teaching and research experience, reflected in 11 research awards, over 400 publications, a large number of research grants, postgraduate supervision and course/unit Head roles. He is well placed to support the MDI and Brotherhood of St Lawrence (co-funders of the part-time Chair) in the development and application of disability economics.

Sue Olney

Dr Sue Olney

Research Fellow, Public Policy

Dr Sue Olney is a Research Fellow in Public Policy at the Melbourne Disability Institute at the University of Melbourne, a Visiting Fellow in the Public Service Research Group in the School of Business at UNSW Canberra, and an Honorary Senior Fellow in the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne. Her research examines market-based reform of public services with particular focus on welfare-to-work and disability services.

Sue has worked in the Victorian Government Departments of Education & Training, Victorian Communities, Planning & Community Development, Human Services and Health and in the not-for-profit sector, and been involved in a range of cross-government, cross-sector and interdisciplinary research projects, government and community sector initiatives, committees and working groups to promote access and equity in employment, education, training and disability services in Australia. Her academic experience includes teaching and research on governance and public administration at the University of Melbourne, UNSW Canberra and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG).
She is also on the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Public Administration and co-director of the social policy discussion platform Power to Persuade. Sue holds a PhD in Public Policy and a Master of Public Policy and Management from the University of Melbourne.

  • p +61 3 9035 5986
  • e s.olney@unimelb.edu.au

Raelene West

Dr Raelene West

Research Fellow

Dr West is passionate about creating positive social change. Her research field is critical disability studies, with a focus on delivery of support services. Dr West has also been involved in disability advocacy, has lived experience of disability and has been on numerous disability committees. She has a PhD in Sociology - Disability from the University of Melbourne and has worked for the last few years on a wide range of projects in disability and aged care. She is currently working as a Social Researcher at the Melbourne Disability Institute (MDI) - University of Melbourne. She has publications in the areas of ableism, individualisied funding models, marketisation of service delivery, use of technology in service delivery and human rights.

  • p +61 3 8344 0822
  • e westr@unimelb.edu.au

Paul Jacobs

Dr Paul Jacobs

Research Fellow

Profoundly deaf since he was five-years old, Paul has worked in the government, academic, educational, and service sectors. Holding a PhD in Education from the University of Melbourne, he specialises in evidence-based practice and policy. Author of ‘Neither-nor: A young Australian’s experience of deafness’, he has also published academic papers, reports and a book chapter about disabilities.

A multidisciplinary researcher, Paul’s scope covers: government policy, employment, inclusive education, social participation, teacher and parent advocacy, psychology, social psychology, language acquisition, mentoring, socio-economic factors, professional learning of teachers, mental health, and expert performance.

  • p +61 3 9035 xxxx
  • e jacobsp@unimelb.edu.au

Campbell Message
Campbell Message PLY

Program Manager

Campbell has a multidimensional perspective on disability informed through living with a disability and working with people with disabilities for many years.

His perspective of disability includes high expectations of potential of people with disabilities, which have been learnt and experienced through many years playing elite level wheelchair basketball, and through being involved in Paralympic Games (where he was part of the Silver Medal winning Australian Wheelchair Basketball Team).

He has also worked for 14 years in sub-acute and community rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries as Leisure Specialist, and has built personal and professional networks in disability, health and para sport.

Campbell is passionate about developing individuals own, and the broader communities sense of potential of people with disability.

Sara Donaldson
Sara Donaldson

Communications Manager

Sara Donaldson has a background in communications, advocacy and design with 13+ years experience driving communications for high-impact policy, political, corporate, and philanthropic initiatives. At MDI, she is responsible for communicating the core mission and providing operational and administrative support across all aspects of Institute.

Tessa de Vries

Tessa de Vries

Coordinator, National Disability Research Partnership

Tessa de Vries has a particular interest in the effective translation of research findings into policy and practice, partnerships with the disability community and clear communication. She has a background in project management, research administration and knowledge translation, with a specific interest in developmental disability research programs.