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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1322

Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (13:05): As I mentioned yesterday, the NDIS is deeply personal to me, and I find the government's National Disability Insurance Scheme Savings Fund Special Account Bill 2016 quite offensive. The funding issues are well known; they were not suddenly spirited away. The NDIS is fully funded, as had been discussed previously. In reality, this is just another case of confected outrage or of the government looking for ways to wriggle out of the commitments it gave before the 2013 and 2016 elections. That is what this whole argument is—it is a politicised confection, a big pavlova of rubbish used to politicise what previously had been supported in a bipartisan manner.

Anyone who has followed Australian Defence expenditure on major items of capital equipment since the ordering of the F-111 in 1963 will struggle to find an instance where there wasn't some sort of cost overrun coupled with an extended delay of delivery. And more than the odd one or two would make any alleged shortfall in the NDIS forward budgeting look pretty puny indeed. Let us be real about it too. Anyone obliged to estimate how things might play out over 10 years down the track with respect to a new, vast and complex scheme would know the hazards involved. It still seems to be part of the coalition mindset that some forms of spending and government largesse—the proposed unfunded and untargeted corporate tax breaks are a contemporary example—are scrutiny free. Spending on the poor and weak, though, always sends some minister's inner bean counter a full spreadsheet of frenzies. This government want to demonise some people—the poor and the weak—and do not understand the psychology of what they are doing to families who have been waiting for the NDIS for years.

The NDIS remains Australia's most important reform in the area of social policy since Medicare. I can name personally many families in my electorate of Macarthur who are extremely grateful for this support—many families who I have seen over many years who feel just that little bit lighter now that now a burden has been lifted from their shoulders. Despite some understandable and not unanticipated growing pains, it is a huge opportunity to improve substantially the life chances and the daily lives of over 450,000 Australians. If government is, as Barack Obama wrote in his last days in office, something of a relay race, then there is plenty of credit to be had by the government which successfully brings this game-changing scheme from the planning and early development stage to full fruition. But if it is to claim credit for any good work, this at times begrudging government needs to rid itself of a mindset that sees NDIS as some sort of fiscal irritant and start seeing it as an opportunity to build something lasting that makes a real difference to people's lives.

This bill has been presented in a way that has caused an unnecessary divisiveness in its efforts to pin social welfare recipients up against each other. People with disabilities are sick of being used as a pawn in the Liberal government's game of political football and they are sick of being seen as a burden and a drain on resources. The Treasurer may well be seeking to make come cheap political points, but he should reflect on why we have the NDIS and what it is doing for families all across Australia. I include some of the core objectives of the NDIS that were agreed upon unanimously: support the independence and social and economic participation of people with disability; enabling people with disability to exercise choice and control in the pursuit of their goals; and promotion of high-quality and innovative supports to people with disability.

In 2011, the Productivity Commission recommended that Australia replace existing systems with a unified national insurance scheme to provide long-term, high-quality care and support for all Australians living with a disability. There is a real opportunity to see if self-empowerment and user choice can be extended to more services and other forms of assistance delivered by government. The NDIS is life-changing for so many Australians and something that the Labor Party will always fight to protect. I have seen dramatic changes with early intervention and support for people with disabilities. Now these children have the means to fulfil their potential, and their families acknowledge that we are all now part of their journey. I want to see all of us in this parliament be unified in our support of the NDIS, as we all move forward in a true gesture of bipartisanship as a real Commonwealth. The families that I have cared for rely on the NDIS. This government needs to change its mindset. It needs to see this system as a way of supporting people who are a part of our society and have as much right to partake in the benefits of living in the Australian society as we all do.

I support the NDIS wholeheartedly. I was encouraged that it was bipartisan and I am very disappointed that we are now seeing conflict and politicisation of what was previously a unanimous vote in this parliament for a scheme that will change the lives of many of the kids and many of the families whom I look after. I really encourage the government and, in particular, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister to reflect very hard on what they are doing. I ask that they see the NDIS as a true bipartisan benefit to all of Australia.