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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1173

Mr IRONS (Swan) (13:22): I rise today to join with my parliamentary colleagues in expressing my support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. From the conception of the NDIS the coalition has supported a national insurance scheme which helps those afflicted with disabilities to help themselves. The coalition supported the government's referral of the NDIS to the Productivity Commission for an inquiry into the NDIS in 2009 which confirmed, on its release in 2011, that the current system of support for those with a disability is broken. Those on the other side of the House seem to claim that the NDIS is a wholly Labor initiative supported by quintessential Labor values. This is quite simply not true. It was particularly disappointing to hear the member for Robertson say in her speech: 'The only people who will offer that leadership and bring about the delivery of the NDIS are the Labor government.' This is simply not true and not what I would have expected from the member for Robertson who I think is better than that.

The NDIS represents the values of every Australian: a fair go for those who face challenges beyond their control. As the Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott stated: 'The NDIS is an idea whose time has come.' However, it is an idea that needs to be implemented correctly the first time. It is a cross-generational policy that needs to be owned by the parliament, and parliaments to come, to ensure continuity and efficiency, that is essential for those relying on the NDIS, for it to come to fruition. The government needs to acknowledge that the NDIS will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail, not just at its initial launch sites in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and the ACT, but well into the future and with full implementation. We in the coalition have called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to implement the NDIS. Those on the other side have rejected these calls and even joined with the Greens in the Senate to vote down a similar proposal to establish a bipartisan oversight committee. For all their talk, Labor is not interested in sensible, effective policy implementation and is only interested in cheap political point scoring—whatever the cost.

Unfortunately this week we have seen an astounding, but unsurprising, lack of fiscal management from this government in the form of the mining tax, which was designed to fund various projects such as the NDIS, but has ended up costing the government more in administrative costs than it has actually raised. The NDIS is simply too important to become another bungled Labor scheme relegated to the trash pile along with the BER and pink batts schemes. We have already seen the Labor mismanagement and cost cutting in the implementation of the NDIS. We have seen the Prime Minister hold various state premiers to ransom with the introduction of expensive launch sites in four states and one territory. The Productivity Commission never envisaged states bearing the brunt of such an expensive scheme. In my own state of Western Australia, Premier Barnett has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint Commonwealth-WA NDIS. This government needs to recognise the limited capacity of states to fund expensive projects such as the NDIS and to work cooperatively to strike a deal that delivers the best outcome for people with disabilities.

I would like now to impress upon the House some key points that the member for McMillan made in his speech in this place, and the reason that I am repeating this is because they are very relevant and I think everyone respects the opinions of the member for McMillan. In his speech he said:

The NDIS will not be the be all and end all for every person with a disability. If this parliament comes to a point where it raises the hopes of everybody across this nation who has a disability, woe betide the Prime Minister who has to implement the NDIS, with all the complications before us in our approach to putting this legislation in place and fulfilling its aims.

To my personal regret, the member for Scullin will not be in this place for the years it will take for the working of this legislation, because it is not a five-minute job. It is not going to be fixed tomorrow. Already we have heard from the members who have spoken about the difficulties with the states. The Productivity Commission said very clearly that this is a federal responsibility and that the federal government should pick up the barrow, take the lead on this and run with it.

The first thing I was embarrassed about with my disability community was that they were attacking my own Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu for seemingly not supporting this because he was ambushed by the Prime Minister over funding for the trial. There will be people who will take the moral high ground on this issue and force things on the states, which it was never intended they would be required to do. I understood it was for the federal government to take the lead, but the first thing to happen is that states right around the country, depleted of funds, are being asked to do the things that the Productivity Commission never intended them to do.

We need forbearance on behalf of all people. I say to the disability community across the country, and to those who are vitally interested in the NDIS, who will be listening closely to the debate, that we have a long way to go. This is not the panacea, it is a great opportunity. Could it be a world first? Yes. Could it change the lives of people with a disability? Yes. Do we desire the best possible outcome for those people? Yes, we do. But I do not want to raise their hopes to a point that they are dashed when they find their type of disability may not be covered by the NDIS—or shouldn't anybody say that? Is there not a place for the truth in this House on the NDIS? Is there not a place to say: 'No, everything is rosy, and once the National Disability Insurance Scheme is implemented every issue within the disability community and the problems they face are fixed?'

The questions posed and comments made by the member for McMillan are the core to the issues surrounding the NDIS. The bill before the House today only provides for the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It states that the agency may provide general support for people with disability. It goes briefly into eligibility provisions, personal planning provisions and managing the funding for support. It sets up a board consisting of a chair and eight members, as well as providing for an independent review of the act after two years. This is all very well, and it is certainly a start to the NDIS which the coalition has wholeheartedly supported. However, as I have illustrated, and those speaking before me have highlighted, this bill is woefully light on details as to how the scheme will actually be managed, funded and implemented. These fine points are to be set out in regulations known as NDIS rules. Until these final details are released, we cannot say for sure that those on the other side will deliver an NDIS that provides the opportunity promised to disability sufferers around Australia.

Yesterday I helped table a report on adhesive arachnoiditis. One section of the report highlighted the NDIS, which I and the members for Hasluck and Parkes thought was inappropriate, as it could raise the hopes of arachnoiditis sufferers that they will be eligible under the NDIS for assistance. It should not have been included, because there is no detail. This is just another example of putting the cart before the horse. So, I say to arachnoiditis sufferers: please do not get your hopes up until you get to see the detail.

In its final form the NDIS must represent and support the aspirational values of Australian society. It must recognise the vital contributions that those with a disability can make to the Australian community through work, sport, volunteering and various other activities. The NDIS should support those Australians living with disabilities to have full, rich and purposeful lives and as such should be a hand up and never a handout that deters people from working and contributing.

Many speakers have mentioned personal experiences, and I would like to tell the House about a mate of mine from South Australia. I have known and worked with this man for nearly 20 years and he has always been an inspiration to me. Ian O'Hara lives in Adelaide and was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of five. Ian was raised as an only child after his older sister died at a very young age. His parents saw that Ian was different from other children around his age and sought medical advice as to what Ian's problem might be. After running tests, Ian was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and his parents were informed he would only live to an age of between 21 and 27. I am happy to say Ian turned 55 last December.

Ian's parents were determined to make sure that he had a fantastic life, so they did everything they could with him, despite his disability. Ian went on to race go-karts and was the Australian open runner-up in 1980 and 1981. In 1982 he won the Australian championship, because, he said, no-one else turned up. What a great effort. Ian enjoyed many other activities in his life that children with muscular dystrophy were not supposed or expected to do.

Ian's parents received no government or social support. They felt it was their duty as parents to look after their child and not the responsibility of the government or anyone else. Ian has taken on the same self-sufficient attitude in life. He started work at the age of 21 and is now one of the longest-serving employees at a national manufacturing company in South Australia. Ian took on the independent attitude of his parents and has always felt that it is his own personal responsibility to look after himself and not to rely on the support of government institutions and handouts. He now has a disability card that entitles him to some mobility allowance and healthcare benefits. The hoops he has to jump through to keep this card are another story again.

Ian married and soon had a daughter, Sarah, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome soon after she was born. He said to me that he is blessed with a beautiful daughter, who has brought him great pleasure and taught him to be less competitive in his own life. I would like to give you a brief example of how easygoing Sarah is. She is now 28 and loves to swim. She is so good at swimming that she competed in the trials that would have meant she had the honour of representing Australia at the Paralympics in Sydney in 2000. Sarah was leading her trial race and was in line to win it. However, Sarah did not win the trial race or anything else, because she stopped in the middle of the race to see where her friends, who were racing with her, were up to.

I asked Ian how he was after the race, and how Sarah was. Sarah did not mind missing out on the honour to represent Australia, because she saw her friends. Ian said he did not go to the trials, but Sarah's grandmother went instead. I could not believe that Ian had not gone to see his daughter compete in her event. Ian explained that he does not watch his daughter compete, because she will not swim if he is there. When Ian is around, all Sarah wants to do is talk to her dad. If Ian goes to watch her, Sarah gets out of the pool instead and sits with her dad. Obviously, these two people, who are dealing with their own challenges in life, and sharing them, have a great bond with each other.

Sarah has now left home and is working in an industrial laundry. She is living in a house with three other people with Down syndrome. The four of them have a casual carer who helps assist them with odd day-to-day tasks. I said casually to Ian that it is probably a party house, to which he remarked that the last time he saw Sarah she did have dark rings under her eyes.

I asked Ian what the NDIS meant to him and to Sarah. Ian said at the moment it means nothing to him as he has no idea whether he will be covered, because he has seen no detail. Indeed, no details have been released.

In regard to Sarah, he does not want the government to give her money that takes away her need to work and her independence. He said Sarah's job in an industrial laundry gives her a sense of self-worth and responsibility. Sarah enjoys the work, the money and the self-esteem the job provides. He does not think it would be an advantage for her to be given money under a scheme if it meant she did not need to work when she is able to support herself and contribute to society.

Ian also doubts the Labor government can implement a scheme like the NDIS. As he pointed out to me, they could not get the pink batts right, they could not get the computers in schools right, they could not get the school halls right and they cannot even deliver a surplus. As he rightly asks: what chance do they have of getting the NDIS right? He also queried the government's ability to pay for such an expensive scheme. Who are they going to take money from, or redirect money away from, to implement a scheme that at the moment is just another headline?

Ian and Sarah are fine examples of Australians with disabilities getting on with the job of living life and contributing to society. The beauty of the NDIS is that it will have the capacity to empower other Australians to do this. My brother Bevan, who had a stroke at the age of 51 and now relies on a carer, will welcome any assistance that will help him get on with his life. One of the things I have not mentioned so far is the carers of all the people with disabilities. They make enormous sacrifices to look after their people and the NDIS will certainly help them in their role as carers.

Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott was right in saying 'the NDIS is an idea whose time has come'. But it needs to be implemented properly. Funding needs to be confirmed and details need to be released before it can claim to be the transformative scheme it is touted to be. We in the coalition are committed to implementing the NDIS, which needs prudent fiscal management and proven leadership. We all in this place have the opportunity to commit to a functioning NDIS that for generations to come helps people with a disability to help themselves.