Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1987

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (18:44): It is a privilege to follow the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Sturt, echoing their fine words of support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This important initiative is something which the coalition fully supports. It is important that there is a bipartisan commitment to such a policy, because it affects an area that is so important to people in the community.

I think it is important to say, at the beginning of my remarks, that I often find it the case in Australia today, that—with all of the apparatus of state and federal governments, charities and all the people who are there to look after people with disabilities—from a governmental perspective all of us in this place know that we are still not doing a very effective job. There is a great deal of need and a great deal of demand in our community, yet with all of the agencies, alms and taxes that are paid in we do not tend to get a lot out for people with very profound levels of disability and their carers, their families and their communities.

That is always something I like to reflect upon, because this is really one of the fundamental reasons that we have government. When somebody asks, 'Why do I pay so much tax?' or, 'Why do I pay such a high level of tax?' the answer invariably is: to look after people who cannot look after themselves—to do things for those who are in the most need. And there is no more genuine need than that of people who have high levels of disability. It often bemuses me that governments spend so much time doing so many other things but do not take care of these very fundamental things which I think we all agree we need to do much better on.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is something which is an attempt to bypass all of the blockages in the system that have built up over many years, between state and federal governments, and between agencies, and provide a platform for a better future for a person with a disability in Australia. That is why it is so welcome.

It is, of course, the case that we have seen many attempts in the past to do something about disabilities. Perhaps one of the most profoundly disappointing moments for me, as a participant in and a watcher of politics in Australia for some time, was when, near the end of the last Labor government in New South Wales I saw the minister responsible for disability issues, Graham West, retire from office. In his retirement press conference—I will never forget it; there was a Stateline presentation by Quentin Dempster—the minister with responsibility for disabilities in New South Wales said that he was stepping down because he felt that he could no longer make any meaningful change in the disability sector as the minister. Quentin Dempster, quite rightly, in this press conference said, 'But, Minister, you are the minister. You have a passion for disability services.' Mr West had a genuinely passionate interest in disabilities in New South Wales and a genuine desire to do something. The statement was, 'Surely you are at the pinnacle of government in this state and you can do something about it.' The minister was retiring to become a disability advocate in the private sector—to advocate for people with disabilities. I have say that as a young person—as a person who is passionate about politics and who has been committed to making a difference in my community for a long time—that interview has always stuck with me and has always affected me. Someone who had that passion, and who had that intensity to want to change the system—to do something for people with profound need—had got to the pinnacle of the ability to do it in government, as the minister for disability in New South Wales, but was pulling the pin because he did not feel he could make any impact in government. It was not an encouraging signal. And it was a signal that we need to do things differently.

The more involved you get with this sector and the more involved you get with the real humanity of the people—the more all of us interact—the more you understand that this is not a partisan matter. It is something that we all need to do better on. That is why I am quite prepared to support a concept like the NDIS. I am quite prepared to support substantial funding of an NDIS and ensure that we try something different and that we look at something that could provide a better future for so many people.

I attend disability events in my electorate—particularly the Ability Options at Bella Vista. Ability Options, which began in 1976, now provides programs and services to over 2,000 people and their families. It provides all kinds of services for people with disabilities: housing development, home maintenance, supported living, respite, community access, post-school programs, case management, self-management, disability employment services, transition to work and supported employment. Visiting with them, and understanding what they do, it was clear to me that there is a feeling in the community that we need to do better.

I had morning tea at the Jasper Road Public School Hills Physical Disabilities Team at Castle Hill. That was important in understanding the barriers that people can meet when trying to access services—the repeated barriers and the nature of the barriers over many years—and the frustration felt by parents, carers and people with disabilities. Those things are very important for all of us to engage with, but it is more important that we do something about it. When we get to the 'doing' we have some concern about ensuring that we get the best detail—and this will be a detailed area. It will be a new and complex initiative. It will require a focus on detail.

That is sometimes something which we are critical of, when it is lacking in other bills. In this area it is important that we work together to get the detail right from the beginning. I think it is right that the coalition, through the member for Dawson, has proposed an oversight committee of parliamentarians from the House to ensure that all parties are brought together in a spirit of bipartisanship. There is nothing political or untoward about it. It is purely to ensure that we have the same input as anyone else so that we people on this side of the chamber can contribute the experience of people who have been in government and who understand that complexity can often be one of the biggest challenges with such a grand and noble scheme. And it is a noble scheme. So, when we get to that scenario, when we are examining the details, the coalition stands ready to work with the government and see an NDIS delivered as soon as possible. Given that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a New Deal, from the beginning it has to be carefully monitored, implemented and put into place with a well-thought-out program.

I am certainly concerned about a number of aspects of it because when I meet with people at disability events, and when I read all of the emails I receive from so many people in my electorate—I have a sample of them here that I will speak to in a minute—I find that there is a level of expectation about the NDIS that is building to the point where I am concerned that we should make sure, from the beginning, that we are realistic with people about it. This will not be a panacea. It will not solve everybody's problems everywhere, all at once. That is why it requires careful thought about structure, careful thought about form and careful thought about detail.

In particular, I am concerned about how we can ensure that we get greater employment of people with a disability in Australia. It is a source of great shame for Australia that we are, internationally, at quite a low benchmark in relation to the employment of people with disability

It is something that governments need to look at. It is something that I would like to see at the forefront of what we are doing to help people with a disability. It is a vital component, where we can get industry, business, the private sector, working in cooperation with government to ensure that benefits are delivered. I have not heard a lot about it so far, but I am hoping that we can ensure that employment is part of the insurance scheme's objectives or at least ensure that we are working concurrently with the private sector so that more people with a disability are able to be employed in Australia in the future.

I have spoken about the importance of the National Disability Insurance Scheme bipartisan parliamentary committee and why that will assist to ensure that we can provide our experience and diligence to the government, but I am also concerned that the federal government work with the states. We want to see a productive relationship between state and federal governments on this issue. Part of the problem and challenge with this sector in the past has been that we have not necessarily had the best approach to disability support. We have had duplication, red tape, regulation and sometimes insufficient interaction between federal and state governments. We have seen a constructive approach in New South Wales, and I fully support, as a New South Wales member, the approach of Premier O'Farrell in signing an intergovernmental agreement in December for a full state-wide NDIS rollout after the Hunter project. This is important, and it is now up to the government to continue with bilateral agreements.

The mechanics of the agency that will be established by way of legislative instruments are called the NDIS rules. The NDIS rules establishing eligibility and criteria are going to be where the most consideration and the most concern will have to be given. I have received many submissions about the age barriers, which we have already set at 65. I understand why there has to be a limit, but there are a lot of concerns in the community that are going to have to be addressed and managed.

On the significance of this bill as a framework, I think it is important to lower the expectation bar in some regards about what this will do. That requires a careful discussion about these rules. We have just seen the release of the discussion paper, on 1 February. I am not trying to criticise, but it would be fair to say, having a look at it, that there is not a lot of detail there. There is not a lot of information. It is really a set of questions, not a set of rules. I think we need to start to get to some of those rules and start to manage the expectations of the community in a way that will produce a positive outcome, because, regardless of which party is in government now or going forward, it is vital that there be a consensus on the approach and vital that there be a bipartisan approach to every part of the process, including the draft set of rules and including the expectations of the NDIS.

I want to turn briefly to some of the people in my electorate whose concerns I promised I would raise. Sharon, who lives in my electorate, has written to me about her younger sister, who is 46 years old and has an intellectual disability and a range of limitations, including failing eyesight, limited mobility in both arms and legs, and the need to use a bladder catheter and a bag. She has been in receipt of a disability support pension since she turned 18, although she has had short periods of supported employment. Sharon and her siblings continued to support her living in a home following the illness and death of their mother 8½ years ago. However, now she is in Westmead Hospital following several falls, depression and ongoing harassment from drug-addicted and threatening neighbours. She is residing there following a stint in hospital at North Parramatta. Sharon tells me there is insufficient support available, especially overnight support, to enable her to live independently in the community. When you put all of those circumstances together, you can understand why we need to do better in Australia for people like Sharon and her younger sister. Dealing with that sort of profound disadvantage is supposed to be the pointy end of government, and yet the limited support available makes life very difficult for Sharon and her sister. That is why this NDIS is so important.

I have had many other people raise issues with me. Melissa from Castle Hill is hoping that the NDIS will mean that her daughter has some security for her future. I think the families are sometimes the most compelling in the cases that they make, because they are the people who take up the slack when government and society fail to assist in a profound way. They are the ones who feel most passionately, because they care so much for their relatives and siblings, and they often have the best experience and stories to tell about where the system is failing.

It is easy for us to come in here and talk about all these individual cases, and we all have these concerns and we all share a profound concern for the future of the disability sector; it is much more difficult for us to do what needs to be done. In the doing of the NDIS, it is vital that we get this government policy right. It is important that, from the beginning, it is bipartisan, it is well supported by government and it is well planned and executed. Whether that be through the use of the parliamentary oversight committee mechanism, which is a very good suggestion of the member for Dawson, or whether it be through other ways whereby the experience and know-how of former ministers, of people with longstanding service in the parliament, can be brought together, this is such an important change in the environment for the future, at the federal government level, that it is vital that it be done right from the beginning. In speaking in total support of the NDIS—the concept and the plan—I urge the government to work with us as we are willing to work with them at any point, at any juncture, to ensure that this is an unqualified success.

Debate interrupted.