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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 281


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (18:34): I rise this evening to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. It gives me great pleasure to do so because in 1972, when I worked for the Department of Education, I was asked to become involved in the international year for those experiencing disabilities. Those 12 months gave me an incredible insight into what I did not know about the challenges that young children, and particularly their carers, face. That passion has remained, and I am glad that there are families across this nation, along with the relevant organisations, who stood up and said, 'Enough is enough.' It is about time that governments of all political persuasions came together and provided the types of services and support that are necessary to improve the quality of life not only for somebody who experiences a disability but for their carers and families. We often forget about those children who do not have disabilities and who often share their time disproportionately between their parents, their friends and others because of the intensity of the 24/7 role that is required.

I am proud to be part of the coalition, because we have had a strong record on supporting the NDIS. We are not here to debate whether the NDIS is a good idea or whether it is essential for our future. All sides of the political spectrum agree that the NDIS is critical. It is about ensuring that all Australians have the support that they require. It is about ensuring that all Australians have a brighter future to look forward to, and that not only encapsulates the whole concept of making decisions with respect to somebody who is a family member who may not have the capability to make their own decisions but equally is about those who have the capacity to make their own decisions and should have the right to make choices and not have them made for them.

The coalition stands ready to work with the government to see an NDIS delivered as soon as possible. The coalition also believes that the full implementation of an NDIS would be nothing short of a new deal for people with disabilities and their carers. We have got to get this right, and no second chance should be afforded or accorded the passage of the reforms that are required. 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, because it is a bipartisan position that we should take forward our combined efforts to ensure that all levels and tiers of government create the best possible opportunities for families to engage with those who experience disabilities to make the choices that are pertinent to them.

A parliamentary oversight committee would lock in all parties and provide a non-partisan environment where issues of design and eligibility could be worked out and worked through cooperatively. George Christensen has had a motion in the House to establish this committee for some time. Regrettably, it has not been brought forward for a vote. Senator Fifield moved a similar motion to establish the oversight committee, but Labor and the Greens combined in the Senate to vote it down. Yet I know that within Aboriginal affairs we have established joint parliamentary committees to ensure the passage of some key initiatives, and I do not see any dissimilarity to the need to do this in a very key and critical area. I would hope that we are not playing politics with the NDIS, that our commitment transcends that, and that the combined approach will enable a smoother and better process to occur. It is people's lives that we are talking about, and this issue is of no political advantage to either side.

This bill establishes the framework for the NDIS and the NDIS Launch Transition Agency. It provides for the establishment of a national disability insurance scheme for which many families across this nation have been waiting for some considerable time. We know that the first stage of the NDIS will benefit more than 20,000 people with a disability, their families and carers living in South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon region of Victoria.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme will provide funding to individuals and organisations to help people with disabilities participate more fully in economic and social life through an entitlement that will enable the provision of things such as aids, equipment, supported accommodation or personal attendant care. The mechanics of the agency will be established by way of legislative instruments called the NDIS Rules. These regulations and rules will establish areas such as eligibility and assessment criteria. It is important that that is established so that it gives a clear understanding to those who will access those services and to those families who are hoping and waiting for the time when the detail will become available so that they know what their future is.

When I was first elected I made a commitment, following my predecessor in the seat, to continue the dialogue with families who had children with disabilities. In that process, what I found challenging not only as a member of the Australian parliament but also as a fellow human being was the frustration experienced by those who were the recipients of services that were provided to those with disabilities. There was their inability to make the decisions and choices that they thought would be best for their child or family member. Equally, there were some frustrations about a career pathway for those who were in a position to progress in opportunities. But the bottom-line concern was: what happens to my child when I die? It is important that we transcend all of that and provide those entities of surety that will enable families to make those decisions.

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 as yet. This is significant, as the bill itself is essentially a framework which 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 Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee is currently inquiring into the bill and it will report on 13 March 2013. A recurrent theme in evidence presented to date by witnesses is that it is hard to offer advice, pose questions or plan for launch sites in the absence of the rules. These need to be released quickly and well before the passage of the bill through the parliament.

There is bipartisan support for the NDIS, and the NDIS needs time and investment to ensure that it is effective. It is important that the NDIS is managed effectively for the benefit of the thousands of Australians who will be assisted under the scheme. Labor does not have a good track record in managing programs, and it is important that we do not get this wrong. We do not want to see the NDIS become the latest victim of waste and management issues. Already there are serious concerns that the government has not put in sufficient funds for the scheme. Although it was positive to see the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the federal budget, this is a long way short of the $3.9 billion that the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first phase of the NDIS. We assume that the government will account for this and make appropriate provision in the coming budget. Not only is there concern about the funding; the full detail of the NDIS rules are yet to be released. The interaction of the NDIS bill, the NDIS Rules and the operating guidelines for the NDIS Launch Transition Agency will determine how the NDIS operates.

The Prime Minister has said that the government intends to release only the final version of the bill, including the NDIS Rules, for the budget. Such a delay can only be a move to reduce transparency and accountability on the government's part. Introducing such a complicated new program, with far-reaching impacts on the community, deserves appropriate attention and scrutiny. The work of the Senate committee is critical to scrutinising this package, and it is hoped that the committee will have the benefit of the NDIS Rules and the operating guidelines for the agency before they conclude their work. In the absence of these two elements, it is difficult to determine whether this legislation will require further amendments. There can be no full NDIS without an intergovernmental agreement with each state and territory. It is imperative that the government be involved in productive discussions with all states to determine a full rollout so that all families that require the support are part of the program. It is important to realise that 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 to be part of a full national rollout. Premier Barnett in Western Australia has written to the Prime Minister proposing a joint WA-Commonwealth NDIS.

The states have always been at the forefront of providing disability services. The coalition will continue to place this issue above politics and is prepared to work with state and Commonwealth governments towards a better deal for people with a disability. In the Hasluck electorate, as I have indicated earlier, I have a disabilities forum group of carers whose children experience varying degrees of disability and they have been providing sound and good advice that I need to take on and advocate on their behalf, not only within government but also with the agencies that support. I have a carers forum—at which there are some 60 people that I spent time with—where I heard from all of them one particular morning about the challenges and the issues that confront them. There is also the Disabilities Advisory Group.

It is important that the jurisdictions work together to provide the level of support that is needed for each of those families. One mother in particular—Shirley Fitzthum—has provided sound advice on the challenges that she faces as a grandmother who has taken on her grandchild, who has a disability, including the challenges that she has in dealing with multiple agencies. What she is looking forward to is the NDIS providing the option for her to make choices that are real to her, that service the needs of her child. It is clear from the feedback that I have been getting in my electorate that an NDIS is an important step for Australia. Let me also say that I support the amendment proposed by my colleague the member for Menzies.

In conclusion, the coalition wants the NDIS to be a success. There is no disagreement about the need for an NDIS. We want the launch sites to run smoothly. We stand ready to work with the government at all levels to make sure that the NDIS provides the scope of service and the choices that are needed in the context of meeting the needs of people with disabilities. It should be inclusive of the families—who play a very vital and critical role—but at the same time ensure that the red tape, the barriers and the strains placed on the families can in many instances be alleviated—not fully, because that will never be achieved—to give them some comfort and ensure that they know that what they are getting is an avenue for the best possible service. I commend the government for bringing forward the legislation. I commend all of those who have been a critical part of the process and I look forward with my coalition colleagues to playing an integral role in the rollout of the NDIS and to shaping its future. This includes shaping the potential capacity of this bill to determine how money and services are provided and how the rollout will make the quality of life far better for any person in Australia experiencing a disability and give future certainty to fellow Australians.