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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 275


Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (18:08): Let me state clearly and unequivocally, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition: the NDIS is an idea whose time has come. All in this chamber know that the system of support for Australians with a disability is broken. The level of support a person with a disability receives can depend on a number of factors: what state they live in, whether the disability is congenital or was acquired, and if acquired, whether it was in the workplace, in a motor vehicle accident or in some other context. Workers compensation and motor vehicle accident insurance provide coverage in some states, but if you were born with a disability or acquire a disability later in life it can be a different story—waiting lists and queues. The result is that many people with a disability are left without the assistance they need. I suspect many in this chamber, like me, know this from personal experience from their extended families.

We need a new system of support based on need rather than rationing, with the entitlement to support going to the individual. The individual needs to be at the centre and in charge, able to pick the supports, the aids, the equipment and the service providers of their choice. This is the vision of the Productivity Commission's landmark report into the long-term care and support for people with disability. This is the vision of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The coalition has enthusiastically supported each milestone on the road to a National Disability Insurance Scheme. We supported the initial work by the Productivity Commission; we supported the $1 billion in the last budget; we supported the five launch sites; we supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full statewide rollout after the Hunter launch; and we support the legislation. The coalition believes an NDIS can be delivered, within the time frame recommended by the Productivity Commission, by a prudent government that manages well. Any comments that we therefore make about the NDIS are offered in a constructive spirit in an endeavour to help make the NDIS the best scheme it possibly can be. The coalition stands ready to work with the government to see an NDIS delivered as soon as possible.

But there is one quibble we have with the government, and that is when Labor members and senators say that the NDIS represents quintessentially Labor values. It does not. The NDIS represents Australian values: a fair go and helping those who face challenges for reasons beyond their control. No side of politics has a mortgage on these values.

The NDIS is a person-centred and self-directed funding model. It is aligned to the objectives of empowering the individual, removing government from people's lives and reducing red tape. The coalition believes that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a new deal for people with disability and for their carers. We have to get this right.

Because the NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments, it should be the property of the parliament as a whole, on behalf of the Australian people, rather than that of any particular political party. To get this right will require a very high level of consultation and attention to detail, not just now, not just in the launch sites, but from now until the full implementation of the scheme, in some years time.

The coalition has called for the establishment of a joint parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the establishment and implementation of the NDIS. A parliamentary oversight committee would lock all parties in and provide a nonpartisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked through cooperatively. My friend the member for Dawson has had a motion in the House for some time to establish this committee. Regrettably, it has not been brought forward to a vote. The coalition moved a similar motion in the Senate to establish the oversight committee, yet Labor and the Greens combined in the Senate to vote it down, so we will move another motion here in the House of Representatives.

The Leader of the Opposition reiterated this offer in his National Press Club speech last week, where he said:

The Coalition is so committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for instance, that we have offered to co-chair a bipartisan parliamentary committee so that support for it does not flag across the three terms of parliament and among the nine different governments needed to make it work.

Labor like to pay lip service to wanting cross-party support for the NDIS, but when the opportunity has presented to give this real meaning, they have declined to do so. And Labor should accept our offer of a parliamentary oversight committee. The coalition intends to give the government, the Greens and the Independent members in this place an opportunity to accept our hand of cooperation by moving an amendment to this bill that will establish a non-partisan oversight committee. I appeal in particular to the Independents and the other non-government members in this place to look at the advantages of having a cooperative approach over a period of time to this important initiative.

It is also important to note that every government and every opposition in Australia supports and wants to see an NDIS in operation. That is why, at the COAG meeting before last, it was disappointing that the Prime Minister could not rise above her partisan instincts. It is to the credit of premiers Baillieu and O'Farrell that they continued to negotiate in the face of public attack and misrepresentation by the federal government and reached agreement to host the launch sites. The coalition urged the Prime Minister to adopt a more cooperative approach, as there can be no NDIS without the states. They are partners in this program, not enemies.

The fruits of a constructive approach were there to be seen when Premier O'Farrell from New South Wales and the Prime Minister signed an intergovernmental agreement in December for a full state-wide NDIS rollout after the Hunter launch project. It is now up to the Prime Minister to continue this constructive approach in discussions with other jurisdictions to conclude further bilateral agreements. There can be no full NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory.

A word in defence of those states who are not hosting a launch site: the Productivity Commission never envisaged every state hosting a launch site and never saw the absence of a launch site as a bar to taking part in a full national rollout. Indeed, Premier Newman has written to the Prime Minister with a proposal for Queensland to be part of a full national rollout and Premier Barnett from Western Australia has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint Western Australia-Commonwealth NDIS.

The coalition will continue to place this issue above politics and is prepared to work with the state and Commonwealth governments towards a better deal for people with disability. While we emphatically supported the government's commitment of $1 billion for the NDIS in the federal budget, we had some difficulty reconciling this figure with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. We assume the government will account for this and make appropriate provision in the forthcoming budget.

The bill establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. This will enable the scheme to be launched, and the agency to operate the launch, in five sites across Australia from July 2013. The first stage of the scheme will benefit more than 20,000 people with disability, their families and carers living in South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, the Hunter region in New South Wales and the Barwon area in Victoria. The scheme will provide funding to individuals or organisations to help people with disability participate more fully in economic and social life through the provision of an entitlement, enabling such things as aid, equipment, supported accommodation and personal attendant care.

The mechanics of the agency will be established by way of legislative instruments called the NDIS rules. These regulations, the NDIS rules, will establish, for example, eligibility and assessment criteria. The government released a discussion paper on the rules on 1 February. It would be fair to say that this paper does not contain much information. It proposes a series of questions; it is not a draft set of rules. This is significant, as the bill itself is essentially a framework. It establishes the transition agency, the board, the CEO and a general definition of eligibility. But the guts of the scheme, the mechanics, will be established by the rules.

The bill is currently being inquired into by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which will report on 13 March this year. A recurrent theme in evidence presented by witnesses to date is that it is hard to offer advice or pose questions or plan for the launch sites in the absence of the rules. These rules need to be released quickly and well before the passage of this bill through the Australian parliament. The Prime Minister in her second reading speech indicated the government's intention to bring the final version of the bill to a vote in the budget session. Therefore, the rules need to be released soon.

On 7 December 2012, COAG released a consultation regulation impact statement as a basis for further consultation on the regulatory impacts of the NDIS. Submissions closed on 1 February. The regulation impact statement focuses particularly on market and business changes driven by the move from block funding to individual funding and regulatory changes such as quality assurance and reporting requirements. This is another important input into the design of the NDIS.

The risk, as always with this government, is in its capacity to competently implement schemes. The interaction of three components—the NDIS Bill, the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the NDIS Launch Transition Agency—will determine how the NDIS operates. At this point in time, developing a complete picture of how the NDIS will unfold is limited by insufficient information. The work of the Senate committee is therefore critical, and it is to be hoped that it will have the benefit of the NDIS rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before it concludes its work. In the absence of these other two elements, it is difficult to determine if further amendments to this legislation will or will not be required.

I reiterate that we want the NDIS to be a success. We want the launch sites to run smoothly. We stand ready to work with the government. The concept of a national disability insurance scheme has gained momentum over the past five years. It would be churlish not to acknowledge the role played by Minister Shorten in helping to elevate the public policy profile of disability. But the lion's share of the credit goes to people with disability, their families, their carers and the organisations that support them. They came together. They decided enough was enough. They spoke with one voice. They declared, 'We're as mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.' The NDIS is where it is—in this parliament, the subject of legislative proposal—because tens of thousands of people right across Australia have done the hard yards.

Acknowledgement should be made of the grassroots campaign by the sector coordinated by the Every Australian Counts organisation run by John Della Bosca and Kirsten Deane. The two main intellectual drivers of the NDIS have been John Walsh AM, a partner of PwC, and Bruce Bonyhady AM, chair of Yooralla and president of Philanthropy Australia, without whose determination, professional experience and personal knowledge this legislation would not currently be before this parliament.

I am proud to be the shadow cabinet minister responsible for this very important area. In closing, I must acknowledge the work of my friend and portfolio colleague, the shadow minister for disabilities, Senator Fifield, who has worked so tirelessly and so hard to elevate the NDIS above politics. It is just too important and I hope that the Prime Minister does the right thing and accepts our generous, open offer to establish a bipartisan committee.

In closing, it would be remiss of me not to mention the Leader of the Opposition's strong personal commitment to Australians with disability and those who care for them by dedicating $540,000 to Carers Australia raised by the 2012 1,000 kilometre Pollie Pedal charity bike ride, an event I am proud to be associated with and to participate in. Along the route we met with people with disability, with carers and with disability organisations. The next two Pollie Pedals, one starting in Adelaide and concluding in Geelong in a few months' time, will also be in partnership with and raise funds for Carers Australia.

I commend the bill to the House.