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Thursday, 27 May 2010
Page: 4480

Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services and Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction) (10:08 AM) —I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2010-2011 and the cognate bills. On 11 May this year the Treasurer began his budget speech with these words:

Of Australia’s 18 years of continuous economic expansion, Australians can be proudest of the one just passed.

Not just because together we avoided recession when almost all other advanced economies did not.

Not just because together we created 225,000 jobs when many other advanced economies were shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But because our shared successes put us in a position of strength from which we will build growth and opportunity, and secure the future.

The point about the Treasurer comparing this year with the 17 that preceded it is important. It is important because budgets do not pass in isolation. They are part of a continuum, a running account of what we value as a nation, a valuation of ideals made actual. In the end, nations are not judged by what they say, but what they do; by what they invest in and what they build. In that sense, budgets are a balance sheet of our beliefs. There are years that, in hindsight, are more critical than others, where decisions are made in the interests of the common good. 1991 was one such year, when the Hawke government committed Australia to a mandatory superannuation scheme. The decision therefore to increase the super guarantee to 12 per cent alone is enough to make 2010 another notable year. After all, that one decision will benefit 8.4 million Australians. Imagine how much better off those working men and women and their families would be now if our predecessors had stuck to the plan to take the super guarantee to 12 per cent back in 2000. Imagine how many billions of dollars could have been put to work in nation-building investments.

I am not going to dwell on the wasted decade of the Howard years. Instead I want to take this opportunity to do two things: to discuss the great success of the Australian model of progress over the past generation, a model founded on the bedrock of the economic reforms instituted by the Hawke and Keating governments; and to bring to your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, another issue that, depending on what we say, and more importantly what we do, all members of this parliament will be judged on, an issue that is every bit as vital to the prosperity of our nation over the next 18 years as the Hawke superannuation commitment was in the past 18 years. The critical issue I refer to is that of a national disability insurance scheme.

The Australian model of progress is unique. It is, in essence, all about balancing the wants of the global market with the needs of our Australian people. It is all about protecting the Australian way of life by embracing new opportunities. It is about looking forwards, not back; it is about being confident, not conservative. This budget is fiscally responsible, as it should be with the world still suffering the aftershocks of the global financial crisis. But it is something else too: it is a vote of confidence in the Australian people. At a time when other nations are winding back social investments, what is this budget doing? It is giving back to working men and women who have made the Australian model such a success story. Delivering income tax cuts for all workers, making it possible for pay-as-you-earn taxpayers to claim a $1,000 tax deduction, and boosting savings with a 50 per cent tax discount for the first $1,000 of interest earned, benefiting 5.7 million people, including many retirees.

This budget is also giving back to Australia as a whole through the introduction from July 2012 of a resource super profits tax. That resource super profits tax, which has already won the backing of 20 leading economists and academics and many others in the community, will allow us to cut company tax rates from 30 per cent to 28 per cent. It is a good tax, it is a fair tax. It is a tax that will ensure that Australian people get a fair return for the minerals of our nation, and it is vital to the economic and social progress of our nation. We must not allow the national interest to be sold off.

Madam Deputy Speaker, there is a great deal more in this budget—for hospitals, for skills training, for renewable energy. But I do not wish to talk about those investments. Other speakers from the government will clearly canvass these matters. Instead I want to turn your attention to the area of disability. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the 1.5 million Australians with a profound or severe disability, together with their nearly 500,000 primary carers, live as exiles in their own country. Whereas prior to deinstitutionalisation many Australians with a disability were shut in, now they are shut out: shut out of employment, shut out of services, shut out of housing and shut out of the community. The fact that this state of affairs has been allowed to continue at a time when our nation is enjoying 18 consecutive years of economic growth is shameful, but our government is starting to address this dire situation.

We are now providing more money to the states and territories for disability services than any previous federal government. We have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have established the first access to premise standards for public buildings. And in this budget we are making some modest changes to special disability trusts. These trusts were established to make it easier for families and other carers of a person with a disability to pay for their care. They are not a solution for every family, but they give families with private means a better way of funding care for their loved ones. We have listened to the Senate inquiry into this issue because we want these trusts to be as easy as possible to use. From 1 July 2011 changes will be introduced so that people with a disability will be able to work up to seven hours a week in the open labour market and still qualify as a beneficiary of a trust. The trust will be able to pay the beneficiary’s medical expenses, including membership costs for private health funds and the maintenance expenses of assets and properties. The trust will be able to spend up to $10,000 in a financial year on discretionary items not related to care and accommodation needs which people have so that the beneficiary can be engaged in social and community participation in our communities. And in two years the government will undertake a review of the amount that can be held in a trust on a concessional basis, the amount that can be gifted and who can request audits. It is estimated these changes will result in an increase in the number of people utilising special disability trusts with additional beneficiaries. I want to see more change to special disability trusts, but this progress should be acknowledged.

Most importantly to the continued success of the Australian model of social and economic progress, we established late last year the Productivity Commission inquiry into a national disability insurance scheme. I am pleased to note the support for the inquiry from numerous members both of the government and of the opposition, and I particularly acknowledge recent comments by the member for Gippsland and the member for Pearce from the opposition. This budget also supports the inquiry by committing $520,000 to involve people with disabilities, their families and carers in the Productivity Commission’s landmark inquiry. This inquiry has already received 1,500 expressions of interest, a record for this stage of a Productivity Commission inquiry, and we want as many people with a disability and their voices to be heard. Disability and care organisations will receive grants of up to $30,000 each to fund travel costs for participants to attend consultations or to engage a facilitator to gather the views of their members and prepare a submission. The first round of consultations will be held in June and July, with a second round to be held next April.

More and more Australians are asking me about a national disability insurance scheme. As Madam Deputy Speaker Burke and I were visiting the Glenallen Special School in her electorate of Chisholm, parents there were most interested to see what was happening with the development of a national disability insurance scheme. Many of those parents at that very excellent education establishment and many others want to know because they appreciate that something has to give in the way in which they interact with the system to represent and look after their children. One statistic tells the tale. Over the next 40 years, the number of people with severe or profound disability is projected to grow from 1.5 million now to 2.9 million by 2050. That is an extra 1.4 million Australians in need of care and support. That is the equivalent of a city larger than Adelaide who we need to plan for.

This is an issue which can touch every Australian family. It is too big to ignore any longer. We need to find a way to secure ongoing services and support for Australians with a disability. We need to understand that doing so will help ensure our economy against rising disability costs and falling labour force participation rates. We need to understand that doing so will target the $21½ billion that the federal government is now spending on disability, which will continue to grow. The question is: can we make it into a system which would ensure that people living with a disability and their families have greater dignity; that they can be turned from charity into consumers; that we can redefine their identities, not as a person with a disability but as a person with many interesting and unique and special individual traits, one of which happens to be their impairment? We need to do so to help ensure our own future. Any of us, at any time, could be struck by one of the rays of fate. It could be the birth of the child with an impairment. It could be the motor vehicle accident in the blink of an eye. It could be the onset of early impairment diseases such as multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

The Productivity Commission has a huge task ahead of it. The commission, in its issues paper released on 17 May, flagged the questions it considers to be most important. How do we achieve early intervention? How does a new scheme encourage the full participation of people with a disability and their carers in the community and in work? How do we ensure that people with similar levels of need get similar support? How do we improve service delivery, including coordination, costs, timeliness and innovation? How do we reduce the unfairness so that people with similar levels of need get similar support? How do we ensure that the professional workforce is well remunerated for the remarkable level of emotional commitment they deploy in their job on a daily basis? Our generation, both within this parliament and outside, will be judged by the ways in which these questions are answered.

Our government is already spending over $22 billion on disability. When you factor in the money provided to the states, the payments made to carers, the $12 billion spent on the disability support pension and the $1.2 billion spent on employment services, we have increased funding substantially. But the fact is that the current system is dysfunctional. It is not working to the best interests of people with a disability or their carers and, therefore, the nation. It is not working for hard-pressed service providers and carers and certainly not for Australians with a disability.

The time has come for us to realise that sticking with the current system is a false economy. We have to make the leap from a crisis-driven system that only intervenes when it has to, and usually at great cost, to one that intervenes early and makes a lasting difference. Making that leap from crisis management to early intervention will not be easy. It has taken decades for this system to become this broken. Building a new system will take time. A new scheme will not be the panacea to all the challenges and problems, but if we can right this wrong we will have built something every bit as important as the mandatory superannuation scheme and Medicare. That is how important I judge a national disability insurance scheme is to our future prosperity and sustainability. I personally have no doubt that the struggle for disability rights is Australia’s last great civil rights challenge. I have every hope that this inquiry will be a turning point in the way that our nation behaves towards its citizens with a disability.

We cannot afford to take progress for granted. We have to make it happen. We can no longer look at the faces of parents with little children diagnosed with a developmental delay and say, ‘I’m sorry, there aren’t any hours available for early intervention services.’ We cannot look at the parents at Glenallen School and other schools around Australia and say to them, ‘There is help when your child reaches primary and secondary school,’ but what happens to them when they turn 18 and they leave those schools? They are on their own again. We certainly cannot keep looking at tens of thousands of ageing carers in their 70s and 80s with adult children with high needs who are sleepless at night with the anxiety: ‘Who will look after my children when I’m no longer here to look after them?’

This budget moves forward the national interest, but there is also the opportunity to develop a proper lifetime care and support scheme for people with severe or profound disabilities—howsoever they acquired that disability, be it traumatically, through early onset or from birth. For those Australians and their parents, it is time that we made them equal citizens in the best country in the world. I commend these bills to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—I thank the parliamentary secretary for his contribution and for his visit to Glenallen School in my electorate.