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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 883


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (12:01): I was just speaking about a constituent who was suffering from MS and who had been unable to obtain a wheelchair. The couple were informed that Disability SA did not have the resources to supply a suitable chair and that he may have to wait for some months. The gentleman was deteriorating and, quite simply, a number of months was far too long. I intervened, including pursuing options of contacting the man's friends, family and community to raise the required funds privately. To their credit, Disability SA came to the party and the chair was provided. Had I not become involved, who knows what would have happened? More importantly, it is simply not good enough for Disability SA to have such pressure on their resources.

Considering that members cannot force any organisation, government or private, to operate outside their rules, how is it that so often we as members of parliament can achieve a better outcome? Unfortunately, it can only be because the system that was supposed to help the individual has failed to perform. Only a very small percentage of people with a disability who have been failed by the current system would even think to elicit the support of their MP. Why is it that every assistance or system of support, whether from Disability SA, the aged care sector or the not-for-profit sector, was not able to fulfil its charter and use the maximum subsidised resources at their disposal without a push and a jab from a member of parliament?

However, we are all well aware of the limits of the current system, its inflexibility and its lack of total resources. Of course, it is those with serious disability who have exhausted every possible assistance available whom we cannot help, yet we know we should. That is what the National Disability Insurance Scheme must do. The failings of the current system are many, from Karen, a single mother struggling with part-time jobs, relying on the support of her parents, with a 16-year-old son who is severely intellectually challenged and physically impaired, unable to get enough assistance to even cover his needs for incontinence aids, through to Hazel, with a 40-year-old son with considerable impairment. After 40 years, Hazel is no longer able to care for her son herself and is unable to find accommodation. The only option is the aged-care system, and that is far from an ideal solution for all concerned. Unfortunately, in the regional centre where she lives she is unable to find a place.

This is a recurring nightmare right across Australia. We are faced daily with the inadequacies in support for the severely disabled. I have said in this place before that it does not matter what service we are talking about—the degree of difficulty in receiving the service grows exponentially with the distance the potential consumer of the service lives from the service centre. In South Australia at least, as the single most city-centric state in the Commonwealth, that service centre is often Adelaide.

It is obvious we cannot, for instance, have high-care disability housing in every small or even moderate centre in the nation. There is simply not enough critical mass to sustain such centres and the building of infrastructure. It is inevitable that, at the very best, we are unlikely to have locally based psychiatrists, audiologists or speech and language pathologists, for instance, even though there is a spread of allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, dietitians and occupational therapists that do at least visit the bigger centres on a regular basis.

For instance, I know well a young couple who have a child with an autism spectrum disorder and who work a large sheep station in the state's north. We know how important the first six or seven years of life are in the development of these children, and apart from city-based training available for the parents there is virtually no service that they can currently receive on the property. They are loving and caring parents who want the best possible for their child, and they have made the highly disruptive decision for the wife to move to the nearest major regional centre and for the husband to visit on weekends or when time allows—hardly perfect. Even there, the services available are nowhere near the level of service available in Adelaide.

Will the National Disability Insurance Scheme fix all these deficiencies? Probably not, but the extra resources should encourage more school leavers into these professions, and we must do whatever we must to ensure more comparable levels in the regional and rural areas, including preferencing students who either make a commitment to work in the country or at least are more disposed to the notion.

In my opening remarks I spoke of the coalescing of views across the political spectrum to make sure that the NDIS is delivered, and I am disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition's offers to participate in a bipartisan committee to ensure that the promises are delivered regardless of which party is in power following the next election have been rebuffed. I give credit to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, for his previous role in helping elevate this issue in the conscience of both the public and parliament.

I am supportive of the National Disability Insurance Scheme—if a little bemused by the title. To me, an insurance scheme involves a policy where the insured or someone else pays a premium to a body which assesses the risk, averages the cost over the whole portfolio and takes a commission for doing so. The NDIS, of course, is nothing like this. It is instead a commitment from the parliament to devote a larger slice of resources to people suffering from disability. The greater resources will have to be found either by making savings within the current national budget or by raising extra taxes—decisions that must be made by the government of the day. So why it is called the National Disability Insurance Scheme is a little bit of a mystery to me. In reality, it is a commitment to fund the disability sector properly, and this is right, proper and overdue.

Australia is a wealthy nation and we must find the resources to fund the program. However, it is with some concern that I note that at this stage the government does not seem to have a coherent strategy to do so. It is all very well to promise the earth, but governments must explain how they are going to deliver. Otherwise it is just words and rhetoric. The people, particularly on this subject, are sick of hearing these types of commitments from government. They want action and they want the policy delivered on.