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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 622

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (13:28): I acknowledge the contribution to this debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill by my colleague the member for Hughes, who has very direct and personal insights into the disability sector. I would also like to acknowledge a comment by the member for Robertson, who said that all of us have been touched in one way or another by the disability sector. Whilst today I do not intend to go into any personal interactions of my own, I am often reminded of and am very thoughtful about a young boy in my electorate who is severely disabled and requires almost constant support from his family and their friends. When I think about the disability sector I think of that little boy, of his quality of life and of the quality of life of his family and their friends. I believe most strongly that we have a responsibility to help him and to help his parents and his carers and we have a responsibility to help those in our community who live with a disability to try and make their lives a little bit easier and to try and make the lives of their carers a little bit easier as well.

The bill that is before the House today will establish the framework for a national disability insurance scheme and an associated national disability insurance scheme launch agency which will operate the launch of this scheme in five sites across Australia from July of this year. The five launch sites are a result of an agreement that was reached between the Commonwealth and five states and territories, with two states—Queensland and Western Australia—not hosting launch sites. But both of those states have submitted proposals to be part of the scheme.

Approximately 20 per cent of Australians currently have a disability and many of them face the same challenges as other Australians; however, with the added difficulty of having to face these challenges with a disability that often makes it so much more difficult for them. I will use employment as an example of one of those challenges. There are many Australians with a disability who want to be part of the workforce. However, disabled Australians are 50 per cent less likely to be employed than those without a disability. Providing those Australians with the assistance to get back into the workforce will not only benefit them by increasing their personal wealth but be of enormous benefit to the individuals' self-esteem. It is not easy, as many of us know, to secure employment in the current economic environment, but it is even more difficult for those people with a disability to secure any employment. We need to be doing what we can to assist them.

I would like at this point to acknowledge the assistance that carers provide to those Australians suffering a disability. Without the support of carers, many disabled Australians may not be able to do the things that are so often taken for granted, such as purchasing groceries, going for a walk or preparing a meal. It is the carers that step in and do that as well as providing constant and continuous care and support to those individuals. It is disturbing to note that in a country such as ours 45 per cent of disabled Australians are living in poverty, a number which is more than double that of other OECD countries. That is unacceptable. We need to ensure that as a nation we continue to help these Australians to maintain the best quality of life possible and we need to have a system that will provide support for those who need it and that will place the individual at the centre and in charge. Currently we find ourselves with a system where the support being given to Australians is not determined by need but by a number of factors such as what state the person with a disability may live in, whether it is an inherited disability or whether it was acquired in a workplace accident or a motor vehicle accident and so on. This system is also characterised by waiting lists for accommodation, respite, early intervention, and aids and equipment, with rationing also taking place in some instances. This is not the system that disabled Australians deserve, nor is it the best system that we can provide.

On 17 February 2010, the Productivity Commission was tasked to investigate the adequacy of support for disabled Australians and on 14 April 2010 the commission began its public inquiry. When the commission handed down its draft report into disability care and support on 28 February 2011 the report found that the current unmet need for support for disabled Australians was $6.3 billion and that a national disability insurance scheme should be created. This finding was reiterated in the final report to government, into disability care and support, on 31 July 2011.

The coalition has continually stated that it supports a national disability insurance scheme and has supported each step along the way, such as the initial work done by the Productivity Commission, the $1 billion put forward in the last budget and, of course, this legislation. It is common sense to implement a system which operates on a person-centred and self-directed model, thus reducing red tape and empowering individuals to decide what support they need, rather than to have to navigate the bureaucracy of state and federal assistance. The final report by the Productivity Commission states:

The benefits of the scheme would significantly outweigh the costs. … The NDIS would only have to produce an annual gain of $3,800 per participant to meet a cost-benefit test. Given the scope of the benefits, that test would be passed easily.

It was further noted in a report prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers in November 2011 that a national disability insurance scheme could increase employment participation for people with a disability by 370,000 in 2050. Clearly, a national disability insurance scheme is not something that can be put to the side, that we can put on hold. It must be brought to the fore and that must happen as soon as possible. However, we must approach it with the requisite attention to detail that we would apply to any major project that this parliament would undertake. It is important that we get this right.

I recognise that, as with all registered programs, issues may arise in the future which need to be appropriately adjusted as time goes on, but we need to get the vast majority of the system right. So we need to be prepared to modify in the future as required if experience from the implementation phase indicates that changes are necessary. It requires us to consult with the Australian public, including our disability organisations, our providers, our carers and our disabled Australians. I am aware that the Senate Community Affairs Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the bill and that there are some issues that need to be investigated, including concerns about eligible participants needing to have acquired the disability prior to turning 65. I like my colleagues on this side of the House are eagerly awaiting the findings of the report when they are handed down, which I understand will be on 13 March 2013.

This bill is also only one part of the legislative framework that will govern the scheme, as the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency, the organisation responsible for operating the launch site, will be governed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme rules. The rules will establish areas such as eligibility and assessment criteria and provide the finer detail as to how the scheme will operate, while the bill we are currently discussing is only the framework. It is important that we see the rules as well before the legislation is finalised. It is also important that we provide Australians with funding certainty. It is interesting to note that the annual debt interest repayments that this government is paying are nearly equivalent to the cost of the unmet need of Australians with a disability. Instead of the waste and the deficit, this money should be allocated to achieving this reform.

I also note that members of the government continue to claim that an NDIS represents only Labor values. This is inherently wrong as the scheme is a reflection of Australian values, such as giving all people a fair go and helping fellow Australians when they need a hand. Ensuring that the implementation of the scheme goes to plan is not something that just the government can claim as it is also an ambition of the coalition and of the parliament. Let us move on from party politics—it is not the most important issue. That is why the coalition has continually called for the establishment of a cross-party parliamentary committee that would be chaired by members of both major parties and would oversee the scheme's establishment and implementation. To date the government has not taken up this suggestion but I would hope that is something we could work towards in the future. We on this side of the House have offered to work in a bipartisan fashion in the best interests of all Australians on an issue that attracts support from both sides of the chamber.

A national disability insurance scheme provides an opportunity for many Australians, and it is up to us to make it happen. However, we are also tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that we deliver a well-rounded, fair and effective scheme that benefits all Australians. It is important that the message of bipartisanship that the coalition has extended to the government is received and that they reconsider the establishment of a cross-party parliamentary committee that will oversee the scheme.

Disabled Australians deserve assistance that will suitably match their needs and restore their quality of life as much as possible. I await the findings of the Senate inquiry into the bill and hope that in my role as the member for McPherson I can ensure that the voice of my constituents is heard in this discussion and that our disabled Australians get the assistance they deserve.