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Tuesday, 3 May 2016
Page: 4180


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:54): I rise to echo the comments that have been made on this side of the House and by the member for Jagajaga. We all remember the photo when this legislation was introduced into the previous parliament. I was not here then, but I can remember watching it as it was broadcast live around Australia. It was stark and really demonstrated how genuine people in the Liberal and National parties are about this legislation. For all of their protests that this policy—the establishment of the NDIS—is bipartisan and that they support it, they were not there the day it was tabled in parliament. Every Labor MP was here and a lot of the crossbenchers were here, but not one coalition member was here on that historic day to talk to, to listen to and to celebrate with the families after the legislation was introduced.

Picking up on what the previous speaker said—that it is unnecessary for this to go to a Senate inquiry: if you are so sure of the figures and your argument then you have nothing to fear, and a Senate inquiry will just validate the claims that you have made. But given the concerns that have been raised and the fact that there is such a contradiction between the previous parliament and this parliament it is right that the National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016 should go to a Senate inquiry so that these questions can be asked and settled.

A 10-year funding plan for the NDIS was set out in the 2013 budget. Regardless of what this government is trying to do to change history, it was set up and included a five per cent increase to the Medicare levy. So, yes, Australians did have an increase in the Medicare levy, and that was supported. I can remember talking to people on the ground who were more than happy to pay an increased Medicare levy. The government seems to think that people fear paying a Medicare levy—that it is a great big tax. People in our community support a well-funded Medicare system. They supported, wholeheartedly, increasing the Medicare levy to fund the NDIS—which was known, back then, as DisabilityCare—because so many people in our community know someone with a disability, have a disability themselves or care for someone with a disability and understand the impact this change—this system—will have on their lives.

Also set out in that 10-year funding plan were several other budget measures to fully fund the scheme. As the member for Jagajaga pointed out, coalition members should remember this because they all voted for the single measures. Perhaps that is the problem: they did not turn up for the debate so they did not realise what they were voting for. Perhaps it was one of those moments where, as it was a Labor government measure that was put forward and because they were not there in the chamber to hear the speeches, they did not understand that they had actually voted for a plan to fund it.

People in our community are sceptical about this government, and they want this inquiry to go ahead. They have a right to be sceptical because of the way this government has taken the hammer and the axe to Medicare and because of the way in which this government has cut billions of dollars from our health system. It is no wonder that people are sceptical about this government's claims when it comes to funding the NDIS.

It is also the form of this government. They are not hiding who they are. When Medicare was first introduced many decades ago—back when it was Medibank—the coalition of the day opposed it. Then, when they were in government, they did everything they could to slow down the rollout of Medicare. Since they were elected we have seen further funding cuts in their 2014 budget, in their 2015 budget and in their MYEFO. They have tried several times to push through a GP tax. They have tried to use different tactics to cut and change how Medicare works.

So we will not take the minister's word for it when he says that there needs to be a change in how we fund the NDIS. We want this legislation to be tested and for people with a disability, their carers and their organisations to be able to ask questions. This inquiry needs to be established to allow proper scrutiny of this bill. It will allow people with a disability and their advocates to provide feedback. This is complex policy, and everybody acknowledges that. So we need to allow people the chance to properly scrutinise this bill and provide their own comments. We need to make sure that the government listens to the concerns of people with a disability and their advocates. That is why it is important that we establish a Senate inquiry to look at this legislation.

There have been countless groups speaking up about the role and purpose of the NDIS and how it will fundamentally change the way disability services are delivered. But we are in a very critical stage of that. If we do not get the funding formula or the rollout right, we could end up with a system that is not true to the spirit of what we wanted. Quite frankly, not a lot of people trust this government and its ability to make sure that the NDIS lives up to expectations.

This is the most significant social form since Medicare. Currently, every state delivers disability care and support services differently. I was disappointed to hear yesterday some of the contributions in the debate around other measures in relation to the NDIS, criticising some states for working it through in a timely fashion. How disability support services are currently delivered in Queensland is entirely different to how they are delivered in Victoria. In my home state, currently it is a mix of block funding to non-government providers and the DHHS. These will be abolished and everybody will be on an individual funding package. Currently, some people in our state are on individual funding packages, and they all have mixed experiences of being on an individual support package. Some have said that it has been great. Others are struggling, particularly if they managing the package themselves in-house within the family, and they are looking for support. So there are lessons from Victoria's experience to help inform the rollout in our country. It is disappointing when you have people from the government get up, point the finger at their state governments and say 'You are slowing this down,' and, 'How dare you be playing politics?' I think that we need to allow the states the genuine space to negotiate and make sure there is a smooth transition. There are a lot of people that work in the disability sector. We need to be mindful and make sure that they are involved in this conversation, because we radically changing their workplace as well.

The new funding packages will be administered by the Commonwealth through the NDIA. From the launch sites, we know that, after a few minor issues to begin with, this is largely working well. There are lessons that we are learning. People in my part of the world are closely watching what is happening in the Barwon region in Victoria, because we are quite excited that we will be one of the first areas where the NDIS will be rolled out when it starts to be rolled out across the state. In my electorate, from 1 May next year, Greater Bendigo, Loddon, Macedon Ranges and Mount Alexander will receive the rollout, and people are excited to be in the transition phase.

The government are trying to hide how they fund the system and that is making people nervous. Now more than ever we need to be transparent. If the government are saying the money is not there, then what has happened to the money? Taxpayers, people who pay their Medicare levy, say, 'Hang on a minute; I have paid for this.' Is it the fact that we have a problem as not as many people are paying tax these days or that wages are going backwards so there is less growth in the Medicare levy because it relies upon wages? Well, be honest about that and tell us that. What is going on? Where has the money gone? This is why we need to have a Senate inquiry to look at this very factor. If the government did not have anything to hide, they would not fear this going to an inquiry so that stakeholders—whether they people are working in the sector, whether they are people with a disability or whether they are advocates—know exactly how the government are funding the system.

One of the other issues that has been raised in my area is making sure that we have a quality NDIS. With the new NDIS being market based at its heart, there is an issue of how the funding and basic price for services will be determined. Given the issues that we have in other sectors of our community when it comes to market based schemes, we need to make sure that we really test this to make sure that we do not undercut ourselves when the scheme begins. This obviously will have a major bearing on workforce remuneration, funding for training staff, the services and equipment that are provided, and the not-for-profit and government organisations in this space. The national body, the NDIA, has already established a basic price unit for services which is called the efficient price. Stakeholders across Australia believe that this price is currently set too low. These are the early stages where we are working to make sure that, across the sector, we have the system right. The price is based on the modern award, so therefore it does not take into account the different ranges of pay across our different states. It does not take into account simple things like penalty rates. One family member said to me: 'My son doesn't stop having a profound disability on a Saturday or a Sunday. He needs to have carers come in on a Saturday or a Sunday.' Another said, 'My daughter still needs assistance being washed on a Sunday.' These are some of the issues that are coming forward with this new scheme. It is a complex scheme.

We also have varying needs of the people with disabilities that will be covered by this scheme. The very nature of disability means there is diversity and that therefore different care, different equipment and different arrangements are needed. Some people thought this was just about making sure somebody had a wheelchair or a program. That is not true. There are a lot of people that work in this sector. We need to make sure that they are being consulted in this rollout. This is another area that I want to highlight in relation to making sure that we transition all of our disability support services across the country into a quality NDIS. To have a quality NDIS, we need to have a quality workforce and we need to make sure that we have a quality system in place that is open and transparent.

When in government Labor established the funding plan that was set out for 10 years to help with this transition so we could do it in a timely fashion to help those people in our community most in need. Australians have a right to be concerned if this minister is now saying the money has disappeared, given that they have already contributed towards the NDIS through an increased Medicare levy. The NDIS was designed, funded and introduced by Labor and it was being delivered on time and within the budget. Thousands of people across Australia have already had their lives transformed by the NDIS and we want to see that continue. We want to see the 3,400 people with a disability in my electorate have the same opportunity. But we need to make sure that the funding that was allocated continues to be there.

This comes back to priorities. Tonight we will learn a lot about the government's priorities in their budget. We already know that there will be a tax cut for the top end of town. That is about 15 per cent of my electorate, meaning 85 per cent of my electorate will not get a tax cut tonight. We already know where their priorities lie when it comes to taxes. We know where their priorities lie when it comes to the family tax benefit. We know where their priorities lie when it comes to Medicare. We need to know where their priorities are with the NDIS. Whilst we support this bill going through the House, it needs to go to a Senate inquiry so people with a disability and their advocates and carers can sit across from the government and the minister and question him and say: 'You committed. You sat with Labor. You voted with Labor when this was first introduced. Where is the money that is owed to the system?'