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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 680

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (17:21): I rise this evening to speak on the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It is a significant and necessary reform. This bill, the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012, has bipartisan support. I have been listening to the contributions of my colleagues on both sides of the House, and much has already been said. What I would like to concentrate on in my contribution is the difficulties of people dealing with a disability, or a family member with a disability, in remote and regional areas.

My concern, without wanting to be negative, is that we need to be very careful that we do not look at this scheme and measure its success, or indeed the commitment of everyone in this parliament to this, just in the amount of dollars that is going to it, because quite often it is not just the dollars that determine the success of the scheme. When you are in a smaller and remote community it is no good having access to a voucher or to money to put into a suitable program to help you if that program is not there. As anyone in this place would know, as a member of federal parliament, you get to know a lot of people that suffer from a disability. Quite often all the help that they are looking for is a little bit of respite so that the carer can have some time away or conduct some other sort of business.

Up until now, the way that disability funding has come out has been a lottery if you were injured, as was one of my constituents in my electorate. I am sure he will not mind me mentioning his name—Denzel Peters. Denzel was visiting family in South Africa, had an accident in a swimming pool and became a quadriplegic. It has been an enormous strain, both financially and emotionally, for Denzel and Karen, his wife. The Dubbo community has supported them quite well, but they have still suffered personal financial hardship. If he had suffered the same injury in a car accident, more than likely he would have got a much better level of care. So we do need to bring everybody onto the same page.

One of the issues I would like to speak about particularly concerns people with an intellectual disability. In a small community it is very difficult to find carers that can come in and help with respite. Or, if people are independent enough that they could live on their own, maybe in a group home situation, one of the problems in a small community is finding enough people with a similar level of disability—and a similar level of independence is probably more to the point—that can actually go together and live in a group home. Generally, the people in the community that do suffer from that disability are at different ends of the spectrum and so require individual care. In Dubbo, for instance, we have got quite a few people with the Westhaven organisation—they have been going for many, many years—in supported accommodation and supported employment. Many of the clients at Westhaven live in group homes quite independently and it is a wonderful thing to see how they operate in the city of Dubbo. But in a smaller community is much more difficult. I know the community of Narrabri is in the process of constructing a group home, and it has required a lot of work by the committee that are keen to have this happen. It has taken years and years, but finally their dream will come off, but it has been a long, long battle.

I have also spoken to people in remote areas and small villages who have a disabled child. When the child reaches an age where they need to go to school or some other thing outside the home, the whole family has to relocate because there are no services in that immediate area. That quite often means taking a change of career for the parents and it becomes quite a problem. The other issue that I deal with a lot, is older parents who are caring for their disabled children who are in now in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They are terribly concerned that if they cannot continue to care for them—if it becomes too troublesome as they get older—that they will not be able to access the required care for their adult children. This is quite a problem for several people that I know in my electorate.

So while I am very enthusiastic about this bill, and having spoken to people from the peak body for disability services, I understand the complexity of it. I think that the Australian people should know that this is not something that can be implemented overnight. Because of the complex nature, it is very important that this is done correctly. I know from my contacts that there is an expectation that it will take some years before the National Disability Insurance Scheme gets into full implementation.

Right across my patch people are experiencing similar problems. I was speaking to a constituent in Condobolin only a month or two back. They are raising their adult daughter who has a disorder that means she requires constant care. She is quite mobile and the family is having trouble accessing respite when they need it. Indeed, carers are driving a couple of hundred kilometres out from Dubbo to provide the care that this family needs on a respite basis. But unfortunately, due to the distances involved, much of the budget is taken up with travel time.

I think there is an opportunity, through this National Disability Insurance Scheme, to help boost the workforce in the disability sector on a local basis. And I think that there is a great opportunity to train carers in local communities that can take up the slack where the community is a long way removed from the more mainstream disability service organisation.

I support this scheme. I realise that it is going to take a long time to implement. I realise it is going to be a big call on the budget and I realise that it is going to be very difficult, considering the state of the finances of this country at the present time thanks to the management of this country over the last five years. But I am supporting it. I just have a word of warning: please, as we progress this National Disability Insurance Scheme we should take into account the needs of those that are disabled in the smaller and remote communities.