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Tuesday, 3 May 2016
Page: 4248

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (17:33): I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016. The values of a government are very clearly reflected in its budget. A budget is where a government puts money on the table, effectively—to use the old saying—to put its money where its mouth is. A budget is, indeed, a true measure of the government's priorities and the interests it represents. Furthermore, it is a reflection of what the government stands for. Nothing is more telling about a government than the way it treats the most disadvantaged people in the community—the most vulnerable and the voiceless. On those criteria, the Turnbull government has to date failed miserably.

It has only been because of opposition by Labor and other crossbench senators that many of the heartless policies of the Turnbull government have either been blocked or modified. They are policies that go to the issue of fairness, which the Prime Minister constantly likes to refer to. Fairness is directly tied to this bill and so I want to mention it now. One has only to look at how this government has cut family payments to families that are not on huge incomes. A typical family with two children in high school will be $2600 worse off and a single parent family with two children in high school will be $4700 worse off because of the policies of this government. Most members of this House would agree that a single parent would be doing it very tough in trying to keep two children in high school. This government also cut $1 billion plus in pensioner concessions—concessions which go to the neediest people in this country. They passed that responsibility onto the states or local government, effectively turning their backs on pensioners to the tune of $1 billion. We also saw the government trying—but not able to do so because of the efforts of Labor and crossbench senators—to change the indexation of pensions. That would have seen pensioners lose a considerable amount from their fortnightly income. We also saw this government try to add Medicare co-payments to this country's medical system. The people most affected by those co-payments would have been those on lower incomes, including pensioners. Then we saw the government—and I believe it is still on their books—try to reduce the amount of time that a pensioner can stay overseas to six weeks before their pension may be cut. These are the policies of a government which talks about fairness.

It does not stop there. We also saw the same principles applied to students. They wanted to increase student fees to university so that degrees could cost $100,000. They wanted to index HECS loans for students and add interest charges. Again, only through the work of the Labor opposition and crossbenchers was that blocked. We also saw the apprenticeship tools allowance of $5½ thousand cut, and we saw youth allowance, instead of Newstart, applied to many young people.

If we go to other policy areas of this government, we see a pattern of the unfairness that I allude to. We have had refugees left to languish in offshore detention centres for almost three years now. We have seen cuts to the funding of Indigenous programs around the country, when both sides of politics, supposedly, are committed to closing the gap. We have even seen it with respect to animal welfare, whether it is greyhounds being sent to Macau, sheep and cattle being shipped overseas, or animals being used for cosmetic testing. We have not heard a word of care or concern from this government about this cruelty or seen any steps taken to prevent it. Nor did we hear anything from them about the Japanese whaling which saw over 300 whales caught and killed, supposedly for research. Again, when we were in government, we made it clear that we would oppose that practice and we took the Japanese to the International Court of Justice. The then opposition, now the government, supported that move at the time and said they would continue to do to so, but we have heard not a word from them.

So I am not at all surprised that this government, the Turnbull government, is now seeking to play politics with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Few areas of policy that I have been involved in since I have been in this place go to the heart of fairness more than the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But, clearly, the Prime Minister's interpretation of 'fairness' is very different from the interpretation of 'fairness' that I have from the people that I represent.

People with a disability, their families, their friends and other supporters are among some of the most disadvantaged and the most limited in this society, and I have heard comments by members opposite that support that view when they talk about some of the families that they know. These are people for whom every day of their lives is a struggle—both for the person with disability and for the family members and carers who support them, who sometimes go for days and weeks on end without a break of any kind whatsoever. These are the people whom, when Labor was elected in 2007, we saw needed support from the government and for whom we talked about and finally introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

For them, the scheme represented a light at the end of the tunnel. It is a scheme that was not only introduced but fully funded by the previous Labor government. I can recall the debates in respect to it. All the way through, there was always negativity about it from members opposite. They were dragged kicking and screaming to support the NDIS. They never truly supported it in the same way or with the same passion as I saw from members on this side of the House. Now it is very, very clear that they again want to play politics with the issue. The Minister for Social Services is here at the table, and I took note of his response to a question without notice earlier today. The minister said:

For the benefit of members opposite, the NDIS will cost the Commonwealth $11.3 billion—$1.1 billion comes from existing Commonwealth funding on disabilities, $1.9 billion from redirecting moneys that would otherwise go to the states and $3.3 billion from the increase in the Medicare levy, leaving an amount close to $5 billion.

That is simply a dishonest claim. The NDIS was always fully funded. It was fully funded by Labor when we announced it, through the ½ per cent increase in the Medicare levy, changes to retirement incomes, changes to tax concessions for fringe benefits, changes to tobacco excise indexation and changes to import processing charges. Through those collective measures, the scheme was funded.

The truth of the matter is that this government has squandered the money. It has squandered the money through its own mismanagement of the economy over the last three years. The figures speak for themselves, and it is not just the NDIS figures. Projected total debt for the year 2016-17 is expected to go to $317 billion on this government's watch. This is not its first year of government; we are talking about a government that is now three years into its term. My understanding is that, similarly, the deficit for this year is expected to double. We will get the actual figures tonight. But, clearly, this is a government that has mismanaged the economy, has mismanaged its own finances and is now seeking to claim that the $5 billion shortfall it wants to make up was never, ever funded by the previous government. It is simply dishonest to say that.

The NDIS—and we will know after tonight just what the final outcome is—is a scheme that people are pinning their hopes on, people who, I know personally, have struggled for years and years. I know many families in which there are children, parents, brothers or sisters who will fall within the category of NDIS beneficiary once the scheme is in place. These are people that this country has neglected for far too long. My criticism in that respect is of all governments right up until the time the NDIS was brought in as a future policy. In my view these people should not be treated in any way that is below their expectations of the scheme once it is initiated and brought in.

It was Labor that brought in the NDIS, and we did so after consulting widely on matters of disability. Personally, I remember going to forums in my own electorate with the member for Maribyrnong, the current Leader of the Opposition, to discuss national disability issues. I heard the stories of the people who came to those forums, as I had heard their stories in my previous engagement with them as Mayor of Salisbury, when I set up a disability task force to try and deal with these issues at a local government level. It was with great joy that I saw our side of politics, the Labor Party, introduce a national disability insurance scheme. Yes, I accept that it is going to be costly. I also accept that it will take time to fully implement the scheme. But a commitment to it was the best news that people who needed the support would have heard for a long time.

I will finish on this point: if there really was a $5 billion shortfall, as the minister says, why was it not raised when the government was first elected in 2013—in the government's 2014 budget? Why have we not been talking about it for the last two years and why has it simply appeared, this the third year of the government being in office, just ahead of tonight's budget?

I do not know what the government has in mind, and I will find out in a couple of hours time, just like everyone else. But I say to the minister and the government: anything less than what the people of Australia were led to believe they would be getting from the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be a huge disappointment to them. And they will not be fooled by the politics that is being played. I can assure the minister and other members of this House that I will continue to advocate and campaign as strongly as I can to ensure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is delivered as promised—in full and in the time frame it was promised to be delivered in.