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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8378


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (16:45): Approximately 20 per cent of the Australian population have a disability—that is, some four million people have a disability—and there are some 2.6 million carers. The coalition believe that continuing support for these Australians is important. It is in this context that we have already indicated our in-principle support for the establishment of a national disability insurance scheme. The reality is that the current system is broken. It is inconsistent and lacks coordination. Support is determined not by need but by how a disability was acquired. Indeed, the Productivity Commission has found that the current system is 'underfunded, unfair, fragmented and inefficient' and 'gives people with disability little choice and no certainty of access to appropriate supports'. Currently support depends on a number of factors: what state you live in, whether the disability is congenital or was acquired, and, if acquired, whether it was acquired in the workplace, a motor vehicle accident or some other context.

There is a level of care which families and informal carers want to provide and should provide for their loved ones with a disability, but there is also a level of care which it is unreasonable to expect to be undertaken without some support, and in some cases some very considerable support, from the wider community. Importantly, any response to disabilities must be a combined federal, state and territory response. At present, total government expenditure is around $7 billion per annum. The Commonwealth contributes about $2.3 billion and the states and territories contribute around $4.7 billion.

The reality is that the status quo is no longer an option. Australians with disability and their families deserve a better deal. Good economic management of course is key to providing a better deal, to providing real reform and real support. Expressions of goodwill and statements of good intent are no longer good enough. Every Australian should feel disappointed by what is initially a weak response on the part of the government to the Productivity Commission's report. This Labor-Green alliance has a history of overpromising and underdelivering. This government has a history of making announcements that are empty and tokenistic, announcements that are never actually acted upon. Expressions of goodwill and statements of good intent are simply no longer good enough. The government should provide a clear timetable for change and a clear and definite funding envelope. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot be keen to push the envelope on their great big new tax on everything but not push the envelope to repair a system that impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

The coalition remain concerned, with good cause, about the government's ability to deliver the complex reform needed in this critical area, so we will monitor its implementation closely because we have seen time and time again the disasters that the Labor-Green alliance has presided over. Anyone who has seen the detail of the government's announcement, seen the paltry $10 million commitment, knows that Labor could have done better. Imagine how much more they could have done without the waste and mismanagement—with no pink batts, no school hall rip-offs, no program failures and no NBN. Australians might not know that the Productivity Commission's final report found that the current unmet need for support for Australians with disability is some $6.5 billion. That is roughly equivalent to the Gillard government's current annual debt interest repayments.

Australians with disability, their carers and their families are not focused on funding options. They just want the system fixed. The government has raised the hopes of these families, so it is now up to the government to outline how it will deliver. That is why it is so disappointing that the government's response has not identified at this stage any funding envelope.

The government are, I fear, incapable of reforming anything. Their strength lies in waste, mismanagement, bungling programs and doing nothing. I suppose there is some hope that they at least have put $10 million up.

Ms Macklin: I'll send this around to people with disabilities. They'll be thrilled to get this.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! Minister, you were heard in silence.

Mr ANDREWS: I will respond to the interjection. People with disabilities have said to me over the last week that they are concerned that this government, given its history of mismanagement and incompetence, is not in a position to be able to deliver. If it were, then we might have seen more.

You cannot talk about reform without also talking about the disability support pension. About 800,000 people are on the DSP, at a cost of $10 billion to $13 billion per year. This represents about five per cent of all Australians of working age. The Prime Minister says she wants to tackle the issue; however, again you see Labor with a poor record on welfare reform. In the early years of the last decade attempts by the Howard government to reform welfare were stymied by the Labor Party. It was not until the coalition gained a majority in the Senate in 2004 that welfare reform actually occurred, in the face of Labor resistance.

Australians wish to be secure in the knowledge that a safety net and social support system will always be available to them if it is genuinely needed. However, at a time of strong jobs growth and emerging labour and skill shortages during the late 1990s and early 2000s the number of working age people in receipt of income support grew to over 20 per cent of all working age Australians, or more than 2.7 million people. Only a small percentage of this number had participation requirements tied to their income support. Seven hundred thousand were on disability support pension and 618,000 received at that stage the parenting payment. Both of these payments were more generous than Newstart allowance, which is received by the unemployed. There were more people receiving the DSP than there were on unemployment benefits.

This highlighted that people with disabilities in particular had a very low rate of participation in the workforce. Less than 10 per cent of people receiving DSP undertook any work, including many people who had significant work capacity. Approximately one-quarter of all DSP recipients in Australia suffer from psychological and psychiatric conditions. Such conditions are often episodic, and due regard has to be given to how we could more appropriately deal with the situations that many of these people find themselves in when they have an episode which leaves them unfit for work.

There are substantial barriers which prevent people with disabilities from participating both in the workforce and in everyday life. They include physical barriers, such as access to transport, and mental and psychological challenges. Whatever shape or form they come in, these barriers have been unfortunately reinforced by negative community attitudes and a low expectation of people with disabilities, and this has contributed to many people with disabilities feeling a sense of disempowerment. Governments, business and the disabled themselves must work together and set about removing these barriers and negative stereotypes. People with disabilities acknowledge that they want to be more economically active. The disability support pension should not be a dead-end payment, as unfortunately so many see it today.

The principal object of reform, therefore, should be to encourage and assist more and more people to contribute and participate positively. The Henry report, for example, laid out one approach to welfare reform. If the government deals only with funding a scheme and does not tackle the more important issue of getting people back into the workforce where that is appropriate and able to be achieved, then it will not resolve the problem. The Prime Minister talks about addressing the issue, just like she said in 2009 that getting people into work was her priority. It remains to be seen whether this is just another empty promise from the Labor government.

The coalition remain committed to supporting Australians with disability. We can only hope this government can actually deliver some of what it has promised.