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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 689

Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (17:59): I rise to speak in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. The bill represents a historic reform in the great Labor traditions of equity, fairness and social justice—traditions and a reform that I am particularly proud to be part of. I say that because, in coming to this place, I left a job as a school principal at a school with many special-needs students. You work hard as a principal, an education leader, with young people with very complex needs. You see the difficulties and you do everything that you can to assist them in that role. But now, nearly 12 years later, to be able to improve as someone in this place the lot of all people with complex and special disability needs is a very heartening experience.

As the Prime Minister has said, the National Disability Insurance Scheme is the greatest social reform since Medicare. She has said—and I agree—that it will stand 'alongside the minimum wage, the age pension and universal superannuation as one of the great Labor pillars of social justice and opportunity for all Australians'. A previous Labor PM, Gough Whitlam, endeavoured to introduce a national scheme similar to this one 40 years ago. Finally, in this parliament we are getting the job done. Former Prime Minister Rudd started the Productivity Commission inquiry into this scheme. I guess this is a real Labor legacy. Each person has contributed.

The NDIS will transform the lives of those living with a disability, their families and their carers. It will assist people regardless of how they acquired their disability, whether they were born with that disability or whether they acquired it through tragedy, illness or misadventure. Today, more than 400,000 people around Australia are living with a significant disability. These people do not all necessarily have the quality of life that able bodied people take for granted. They may face poverty, mental health issues, social isolation, stress, limited opportunities, discrimination in employment, all because they currently do not have what is necessary to enable them to lead a life equal to someone in the rest of society—a life that would be reasonable for any individual.

Under the NDIS, their needs will be met on a case by case basis and their care tailored to individual and specific needs. I guess that that is something that all here champion. Once you have been here for any length of time, you realise that flexibility might be the curse of bureaucracies but it is certainly what ordinary everyday citizens in this country want. They want some sort of recognition that diversity and individual circumstances are real. The scheme gives people with a disability choice of and control over the care and support that they receive. If a person has a permanent disability that impairs their functions, they will likely be supported through the scheme through either an individual plan or a range of supports, such as education support or a community group that provides the support that they need. Needs change and we need to be able to respond to those changing needs and circumstances.

This bill establishes both the framework of the NDIS and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency, which will operate the five national launch sites, which are in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, the Barwon area of Victoria and the Hunter region in New South Wales, centred on my electorate of Newcastle.

I want to divert from my speech for a moment. I noticed a media release that came out today saying that people are running a scam to do with the NDIS, asking people for fees to be paid so that they can participate in the NDIS. It is just horrific to think that anyone would exploit what is a wonderful opportunity for people with disabilities and try to take advantage of people with disabilities. We urge anyone who is approached about agency fees and the NDIS to please at least contact their federal member of parliament so that we can do everything that we can to stop that happening.

The bill gives effect to obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and provides for a review of the operation of the act after a two-year period. It outlines how to participate in the scheme and the ways in which to develop personal goal based plans with the agency in order to receive tailored support. According to the World Health Organisation, 70 million people worldwide require a wheelchair yet just 15 per cent of them have access to one. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms that people with disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, in a very wealthy and privileged country like Australia many disabled Australians have been left behind. At more than double the OECD average, a startling 45 per cent of Australians with disabilities live in or near poverty.

Australia is also ranked just 21st out of 29 OECD nations on employment participation by people with disabilities. A broad economic contribution can be made by people with disabilities if we employ them. It is quite a great economic loss to our communities and to our nation. The 2011 report from Deloitte Access Economics into the economic benefits of increasing employment for people with disabilities commissioned by the Australian Network on Disability suggests that 'closing the gap between labour market participation rates and unemployed rates for people with and without disabilities by one-third would result in a cumulative $43 billion increase in Australia's GDP over the next decade in real dollar terms'. Sadly, today only half of working age Australians with disabilities are employed in the workforce compared to 80 per cent of those without disabilities.

The federal government has released its National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which sets out a 10-year policy framework designed to improve the lives of those with a disability and their community. This was developed in partnership with COAG and it is pleasing that, with respect to the NDIS, a number states, including New South Wales, have come to the table in good faith. I have heard other members say how important it is to have a non-partisan approach. This is something that they whole nation can take great pride in. I love those policies and pieces of legislation that are big enough for everyone to take some pride in, and this is one of those.

The strategy identified the need to remove barriers faced by disabled Australians that prevent them from gaining employment. Extensive community consultation found that misunderstanding and naivety about and negativity towards people with disabilities exist within the community. Such attitudes have presented employment participation barriers for too long. These barriers have included concern about risks in employing people with disabilities, associated employer costs with hiring and retaining a person with a disability and the lack of information and support networks designed to assist employers. This misinformation is in many respects a prejudice towards those with a disability, one that we hope will be alleviated and relegated to the past with the beginning of the NDIS. Already a major central hub for disability services and facilities, the Hunter region is one of five NDIS launch sites around the nation. The secretary of Disability Network Hunter, Karen Stace, has stated that the Hunter region has a greater proportion of people requiring care than anywhere else in the state. That has been the case for some time. As a major regional capital, we attract many people who come and live in our city to access disability services.

The Hunter NDIS site is the largest of all the launch sites and will assist 10,000 local people with disability—this is actually half of all people around the nation who will participate—their families and carers. Of the $1 billion funding allocated by the federal Labor government, $300 million of additional funds is being directed towards the Hunter NDIS launch site. The Commonwealth has agreed to cover 51.4 per cent of the costs associated with the NDIS in New South Wales. It is pleasing that through the Council of Australian Governments the New South Wales government has come to the table with funding, and that the entire state of New South Wales will be covered by 2018-19—ultimately benefiting around 140,000 people with disabilities in New South Wales. I congratulate that state government, as it was the right thing for the New South Wales government to do. It took some time as New South Wales had to agree with the government on certain things, but thank goodness it came to this agreement. This rollout will take time, but it must be a gradual transition to ensure the least amount of disruption and that it is in line with the Productivity Commission's recommendations.

It was a pleasure to host the Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin, in Newcastle in January, visiting service providers and local people with a disability at ConnectAbility, a service provider in Newcastle. ConnectAbility is a not-for-profit service supporting those with high to very high support needs. I thank the organisation's general manager, Karen Stace, the chair, the board members, all the family members who were there on the day and the participants themselves for warmly inviting us into that organisation. I congratulate Karen Stace and her team on the fabulous work that ConnectAbility is doing. There the minister and I heard firsthand the challenges and aspirations of those with a disability, their families and carers and what they would like to see out of the NDIS.

A recurring theme was that the current system does not treat people on a case-by-case basis, and in many cases people fall through the cracks. One local woman we met, who does not have an intellectual disability but is confined to a wheelchair and has high complex needs, told us of her difficult experience in gaining care and support because she does not tick the boxes and does not fit some sort of model. She is reliant on the care of her family, like her sister who has young children. These are very difficult situations and people want some independence and they want their needs to be catered for in a way that does not put people like this very intelligent woman in a care place or a respite place with people that she cannot even relate to. It was very good to hear firsthand from her. It is always the parents and carers who feel totally overwhelmed, and our hearts go out to them because their lives are often changed at such short notice on a whim. We really understand that we have to make this model work, so that everyone can sustain the good relationships and good support partnerships that develop in families and with friends around care situations.

At the Newcastle National Disability Insurance Scheme Forum with Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Jan McLucas, last year, we certainly heard the same sorts of stories from our community. We had great interest and lots of questions from service providers who are very keen to be able to make this transition well. I thank Senator McLucas for listening to the concerns and aspirations of our community.

At this forum, we heard the stories and the experiences of local disability advocates such as Melanie Schlager and Linda Hughes and her son Jacob who participate in Mind the Gap, a local advocacy and support network who, as the name suggests, seeks to bridge the gap that currently exists for people with disabilities. I must say that each one of us owes a huge debt to the advocacy groups and the work they have done. It may stem from a personal experience and personal need, but they have been the real champions for people with disabilities for so long. Theirs and many other personal stories have directly informed those building the NDIS, and I certainly do thank them.

Already in Newcastle this great social reform is underway. The Launch Transition Agency are on the ground—they do not have a home base yet, so if you are looking for them, it is not possible to find them in an absolute site yet—and they are recruiting right now. They will employ approximately 65 people overseeing the launch in the Hunter region. The agency will ensure that those with a disability, their families and carers are working with people who know and understand the local community services and support networks. The transition agency's regional offices will include qualified planners who will work with people to develop the individual support statement. It will include local area coordinators who will assist those with disability to participate in their community, financial managers, technical staff and administrators. Major changes will occur in the way we work with people with disabilities and it is important that we get this reform right—step by step, so that we are able to build a sustainable system. In addition to establishing the NDIS, the Launch Transition Agency will ensure the scheme is financially sustainable and play a vital role within the community, building awareness and conducting research surrounding disabilities.

Four-time Paralympian and world champion Kurt Fearnley OAM said in his inspirational 2013 Australia Day address that:

Growing up with a disability does not bring with it a sense of shame or self-doubt. It's only when we learn to interpret the faces of the people around us, or when our environment offers no chance of interacting to an acceptable level, that we realise this.

That is a rather sad observation, but a very true one. We hope the NDIS will bring equity to lives otherwise overlooked. As the Prime Minister has stated, rather than patching up the existing system, our government is building an entirely new system with the current funding model replaced by an insurance approach based on the need of actual and future costs. Local organisations have already received substantial funding to assist with the preparation of the NDIS. Life Without Barriers received $26,000 just recently and $160,000 has been allocated to Hunter TAFE's Disability Employment Broker project. I know that people are preparing for the NDIS with great enthusiasm. I congratulate the Prime Minister and Minister Macklin, particularly, and thank them for their work. (Time expired)