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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 706

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (19:15): Why are we here? We are here to debate an incredibly important piece of legislation that is the first step in the establishment of a system that will deal with the needs of people in our community with disabilities. We stand here to do this because our nation and our political parties have not been prepared to do this before. All of us have experience dealing with people with disability in the community, some very closely, as has been highlighted by some members of parliament with members of their own family, sometimes their own children. Others members have experience with relatives of a more distant nature, and many of us—in fact all us—have experience with the needs of constituents who come to our offices in search of help, in need of help and most deserving of help. The fact that we as a nation have not previously got to the stage, in a coordinated and efficient manner, to dealing holistically with the needs of people with disability is something that we as a country cannot be proud of—but we now have an opportunity to do something about it.

People with disability and their families are one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia, with substandard outcomes on most indicators of community participation and social and economic wellbeing. For example, 50 per cent progress past year 10 at school, compared with 80 per cent in the general population; 31 per cent participation in the labour force compared with 83 per cent of people without disability. Two-thirds earn less than $320 a week, compared with one-third of the general population. Furthermore, a 2007 study by the Australian Centre on Quality of Life and the School of Psychology at Deakin University found that family carers have the lowest level of wellbeing of any group. Australia also has the lowest rates of employment of people with disability of any OECD nation.

The Productivity Commission's Disability Care and Support report concluded that:

The current disability support system is underfunded, unfair, fragmented, and inefficient. It gives people with a disability little choice, no certainty of access to appropriate supports and little scope to participate in the community

In short, it concluded that the current system is:

…marked by invisible deprivation and lost opportunities.

The commission's recommendation was to establish a new disability care and support scheme in which all Australians with a significant and ongoing disability—around 410,000 people—would get long-term care and support.

An NDIS will ensure people are no longer shut out from opportunities and from independence by providing the appropriate and necessary supports that allow people with disability to reach their full potential. It aims to support the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability. It will take a lifelong approach and a focus on early intervention, which will substantially improve functioning or delay decline. It will promote innovation in the provision of supports. The NDIS is essentially about choice—it puts people with disability in control of the care and support they receive, based on their individual needs. As the Prime Minister explained in her second reading speech:

The scheme will move away from the crisis model, where families only receive support if they are unable to continue in their caring role and there are no other options. Instead, it will work with families before they reach crisis to make sure that the valuable informal care they provide is sustainable.

The NDIS will be a cooperative venture with the Commonwealth, the states and territories operating as partners under the umbrella of COAG. The scheme will be implemented progressively. Five launch sites are planned for 2013-14 in five different host jurisdictions. Under this bill, support for participants of the scheme will be provided as a part of an individual goal-based plan. Each participant will work with the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency to identify their goals and aspirations and their individual circumstances, including living arrangements, informal care and environmental and personal factors. This will help guide the development of their individually-funded support package. Each participant's plan will be in two parts: the first, developed by the participant, will set out the goals, aspirations and individual circumstances; the second, developed jointly by the participant and the agency, will include details about how the participant has decided to manage their plan and when it will be reviewed. Plans are to be approved by the CEO in accordance with prescribed rules and will remain in effect until they are replaced by another plan or are revoked. The legislation provides for the provision and funding of reasonable and necessary support for participants. Plans may be managed by the participant, by a registered plan management service provider, by the agency or by a plan nominee. There are some circumstances where the participant may not manage their own plan—for example, where the participant is insolvent or under administration or where the CEO is satisfied that management of the plan would present an unreasonable risk to the participant. Payments will be made to the participant or the person managing the participant's plan. These payments must be spent in accordance with the participant's plan and records of payments and receipts retained.

The Productivity Commission found that ageing carers are left desperately worried about what will happen to their child once they are no longer able to care for them, and those they care for also feel the pressure of uncertainty, worrying about what the future holds for them. This legislation aims to establish a system that is also sensitive to carers' circumstances and takes into account the sustainability of each person's caring arrangements. Adam Cope, a person with disability, wrote his story in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme:

Living each day is full of stress for my parents and myself. Not knowing if tomorrow my mum and dad would still be here to continue to support me is the worst feeling. The fact that this will at some time occur is really driving me fearful with worry and anger. The current system provides minimum support and relies on parents, family and charity models to enable me to have a life. The NDIS would give me a means to have hope and be supported to do what I want to do. It would also let mum and dad off the hook and they could then have a life. After 39 years I think they deserve it.

He goes on to outline potential economic benefits:

The NDIS will assist a great number into work. This will, in time, have many more people paying taxes and putting back into the economy. Parents who have had to give up work to support their adult children will also be able to remain in the workforce and continue paying taxes. Equipment design and innovative ways of creating new devices will make Australia a world leader in a whole new approach for disability. This in itself has great potential for the country's economy.

Carer Bronwyn Brown cares for her 19-year-old daughter, Tamesia. Mrs Brown said:

We literally do everything for her. If she sneezes, we are there to wipe her nose and we are up all night because we have to turn her, it is as constant as having an extra arm on your body and it is getting harder as we get older. I now suffer with a back condition from all the years of lifting...We are OK for equipment under the medical aid disability scheme but it is when it comes to respite care that we struggle because she is now at home. Especially when I'm sick or there is a crisis, that is what I worry about most...I went to the rally in the city to fight for this so I am happy about the decision but I fear that a change in government might change the plans.

A large range of disability service providers and sector representatives have openly supported the NDIS. Vision Australia have written:

During 2011-12 Vision Australia provided services to 33,577 Australians who are blind or have low vision, including their families and carers, on a regular basis. We strongly support the NDIS and believe that no person who is blind or has low vision, or who acquires vision loss, should be left without access to government funded service support and assistance.

Cerebral Palsy Australia President Glenn Rappensberg has said that disability services—support and care—must be personalised, caring and specialised. He said:

Funding must be equitable across the nation, balanced by the desirability of having local assessments, community support and flexible responses, which are critical for people living with disability.

The Health and Community Services Workforce Council said:

The NDIS is a much needed reform which will dramatically change the landscape of the disability sector in Australia. This reshaping will undoubtedly improve the access and choice of care available to our communities, but also has the potential to lead to significant changes to the disability workforce's existing work roles and job design.

It is clear that there is bipartisan support; this initiative needs bipartisan support, but the question of the way forward will be full of challenges. As has been mentioned earlier, this is a complex change and a very large change. There will be problems, and that is why there is Senate inquiry, why there needs to be trials and why we can expect that this will take years to implement in full. We need to take that time to make sure that we do get it right. It has been mentioned by many speakers, particularly on the other side, that there are financial issues here, and of course there are. Major changes often do require financial commitment. Needs that have been neglected or that have been left to family members, friends and charities to deal with over time will in fact require financial commitment. It is incumbent on this parliament and the parliaments in the future at both a national and a state and territory level to ensure that that funding is provided. That funding must be provided because the need is there. That need has, as I have said, been ignored often as many of us have, frankly, just turned away because it was all too hard.

Those who have been committed to something like the NDIS for years and who have worked hard to develop models and ensure that politicians and the broader community understand the nature of the unmet need should be congratulated. I will not try and name names because there are probably too many to name. I hope that they see in the initiatives here before the parliament today that the work that they have done and the commitment that they have had is being met by this parliament on a very necessary road forward. This is one step along the way, and it will be one step at a time, but the fact is they are steps that must be taken. It has been said by some speakers on this side of the house—and I agree—that this is a Labor reform, but it needs to be a national reform. It is a reform that is about dealing with those in society with a disability with care and compassion, providing them with the opportunity to be all that they can be and providing real assistance to their families and loved ones. We must do it and we must do it now.

I commend this legislation as a very important step forward on a road that will hopefully lead to a situation where those with disability in our community will receive the support that they need to give them the opportunity to be what they can be. We as a society will be better for it.