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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 905

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (13:34): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. In doing so I would like to note the bipartisan support the NDIS has in this parliament. I would also like to stress the importance of this issue across the nation and in my own electorate of Dawson, including the importance of getting the NDIS right. And I would also like to raise some concerns that I have about how the NDIS may be implemented.

On 20 August 2012, I introduced in this place a motion calling for the establishment of a joint select committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The motion was put forward in the spirit of bipartisanship because all members from all political parties in this place and in our state governments were supportive of the NDIS. In the words of the Leader of the Opposition, 'The NDIS is an idea whose time has come.' It is an idea that was conceived by John Walsh, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and was first canvassed at the 2020 Summit in 2008. The Liberal-National coalition supported the government's referral to the Productivity Commission for an inquiry into an NDIS and has been strongly supportive of a bipartisan approach to the implementation of the scheme. Last year, the opposition leader, on behalf of the entire Liberal-National coalition, released a statement that said:

Right now, the treatment given to people with disabilities depends upon how the disability was incurred and which state it happened in. Most rely on state government-funded disability services where demand always outstrips supply. It's wrong that people's treatment should depend upon the litigation lottery or more upon what the system can afford than upon people's needs. The national disability scheme should be a new project that unites Australians. It has to be done responsibly but it does have to be done. The Coalition will do what we reasonably can to make the NDIS happen and would accept a government invitation to be jointly responsible for this vital national project.

On 13 April last year, the opposition leader sent a letter to the Prime Minister putting forward the concept of creating a parliamentary NDIS committee that would ensure policy stability for the proposal until the scheme's full implementation. But there was no written response to this request, merely a brush-off through the media. On 27 April, the opposition leader repeated that offer to the Prime Minister, but this time the offer was formally rejected. As we know, the implementation of the NDIS, as it is proposed by the Productivity Commission, will take seven years, which will span the lives of at least three parliaments and quite possibly different governments.

So the motion that I put to parliament last year put another formal offer on the table, an offer that should not—given the bipartisan support—be rejected. And yet it looks like it has been rejected. My motion, which was moved in August, has been debated but has still not been brought forward for a vote. My belief, and my concern, is that the Gillard Labor government have refused—for six months—to allow that vote to happen because they fear losing a vote on the floor of the House and, in a party-political fashion, a partisan fashion, they are trying to somehow 'own' the NDIS. That would be a very disappointing state of affairs for people who desperately want to see the NDIS implemented—and implemented well.

When introducing that motion in August, I spoke on the various reasons why this issue is very important to me. I grew up in a family where disabilities were actually a lived experienced. My mother was born with cerebral palsy. She is an epileptic. As a youngster I had to deal with the issues associated with that, including picking her up when she was unconscious on the floor and trying to revive her. In fact, my mother told me that her mother had related to her that when she was born the doctor said: 'Give her up. Just put her into government care and be done with it. She will never be any good.' That was the attitude back then. My father lost his leg to cancer when he was 19, so we really live with disabilities in our house. I am now the very proud godfather of James, who is on the autism spectrum but is a great little kid, and I love him dearly. For all of those reasons I know too well why a national disability insurance scheme is needed in this country.

There are many dedicated people and organisations right throughout the nation but particularly in my electorate that I want to mention because they know the importance of getting this scheme right because they deal with the disability issues every single day. I am referring to organisations in my electorate such as Autism Queensland, and my godson is involved in some of the programs they have; Blue Care, and I particularly mention the director of nursing in Bowen, Helen Woodhouse; Compass Whitsundays, and I mention in particular Monica Laws and her team; the Burdekin Community Association, who do a great job throughout Ayr and Home Hill and surrounds; and the Cootharinga Society of North Queensland, and I mention especially Brett Edwards, who is the general manager of support and accommodation services there. In Bowen, at Bowen Flexi Care, Mandy Edwards and her team do a fantastic job, as does Mike Bolt, who is the manager of En Geti, which is another service provider in the Mackay region. There is Mackay Advocacy, where Nina Swara and her team provide advocacy services for people with disabilities. At MADEC there is Thomas Block and coordinator Karen Langtree, who provide a great service and who took me through their John E Smith respite centre, which, when it is fully complete, will be a fantastic facility for respite care in the Mackay region. There is the Life Stream Foundation in Mackay, of which Jodie Gairn is the area coordinator. There is Amy Williamson and her team; Amy is operations manager at Life without Barriers. There is Pioneer Employment, which does a fantastic job of getting people with disabilities into real, meaningful employment. I mention in particular operations manager Valerie Cummins and her team.

Last but certainly not least—in fact, it is probably at the top of the list—is the Endeavour Foundation. The Endeavour Foundation, as most people know, are a national organisation. But they have strong local teams, particularly in my North Queensland electorate. To celebrate the International Day of People with Disability, the Endeavour Foundation put on an art competition for which they sought entries that illustrated the theme of the day. The theme was removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all. All the entries were uploaded to their Facebook page.

A supported employee from Mackay, Ashley Burke, who is from the Mackay business centre of the Endeavour Foundation, received the most 'likes' on his drawing, and he won the people's choice vote for a dynamic little bit of art work which showed him doing a taekwondo kick. It won him an iPad. Ashley is really into taekwondo, and I had the pleasure of presenting Ashley with his prize at the end of last year alongside the senior business service manager at Endeavour, Sean McCauley. Ashley's work of art was entitled 'Once I started breaking boards, I started busting barriers'. He explained to me that he was knocked back a few times by different taekwondo instructors because they did not see his potential but that he kept pushing and that, despite the setbacks, he remained determined to pursue his goals. This talented young kid is now a red-belt/black-tip in taekwondo and is about to go for his black belt. He sees that, when he starts breaking those boards—and he assures me that he can break the boards; I did not try it out—he is busting the barriers that are put in front of him, and I think that is fantastic. Ashley is one of almost 60 supported employees who work at the Mackay business service centre for Endeavour. I have seen 38 other people with disabilities at Endeavour's learning and lifestyle centre in Shakespeare Street in Mackay, and they are also supported in accommodation services by Endeavour.

These are the organisations and people who the NDIS will help. National Disability Services, the peak body for non-government disability services, gave an apt definition of the NDIS. They said it will be:

… an entitlement-based funding mechanism, which will provide flexible, person-centred supports so that people can participate in ordinary, daily life.

But the benefits go beyond just people with disabilities and disability service providers; it will actually benefit the entire nation. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, one of the great things about the NDIS is that it will give people with disabilities and their carers more opportunities to be productive and more opportunities to participate in our economy. He went on to say words that aptly express my own feelings about the NDIS. He said:

That's why it's not just a cost. Over time, it is an investment in a better society and in a stronger economy. The NDIS is not about handouts, it is not about charity; it is an investment in our future. It will also give people greater freedom of choice.

The NDIS will provide people with a disability, their families and their carers with the ongoing care, support, therapy and equipment that they actually need. Most importantly, it will be individualised and person-centred, with support based on the personal choices of either the person with the disability or their family or carers.

That is fundamentally the great thing about the concept of the NDIS: empowerment. It lets individuals and families decide what services will best fit them, rather than having some bureaucrat in a state capital work it out on a desktop model. It opens up competition and opportunity within the disability services sector, which is good for the person with the disability, as they will have affordable choices for service provisions; but also it is good for the disability service providers, as they will have greater certainty in terms of long-term service demand. In my view, that is a key ingredient of the NDIS. There is a lot to look forward to about it.

But, in the back of my mind, I do have to say some alarm bells are ringing. The first warning bell, obviously, is funding. Where is the money going to come from? The second alarm bell is value for money. Much of the money that has been borrowed on the taxpayers' behalf right now, to fund the initial stages of the NDIS, will not actually be going to people with disabilities; it will be going to establishing and maintaining the systems and the administration or bureaucracy that goes around it.

The bill establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. And, while it is a necessary part of building the NDIS, we have to be aware that there is a danger that the NDIS could be hijacked and could be transformed into a bureaucratic quagmire. We cannot allow that to happen. The funds must flow through to the people who need the money and the improved services: people with disabilities and their carers. I am looking forward to seeing a well-constructed, cost-efficient NDIS being implemented in Queensland to make a difference in the lives of people who need it.

In Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman has just commenced cleaning up almost two decades of Labor finances, and the mess that was there. He has still managed to have a commitment of an additional $313 million in disability spending for the NDIS by 2018-19. An article from the Courier Mailon 13 December last year put his commitment in context:

Mr Newman faces a difficult battle after inheriting a government that spends less per capita on the disabled than other states.

Mr Newman said his government would kick-start the funding with a $50 million injection in 2014-15, when the budget is projected to return to surplus.

That will climb to $313 million extra by 2018-19, bringing the increase in five years to $868 million.

The state currently spends $959 million on its disabled.

So why is it that the Prime Minister and her government greeted a similar announcement in New South Wales with enthusiasm and merely scorned the Queensland government? It was very sad indeed that that happened. Fiona Anderson, on a blog on the Every Australian Counts website, offered a bit of an insight. She pointed out that the Queensland Premier denied the Prime Minister the opportunity of sharing the stage for that important announcement, unlike the New South Wales Premier. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the NDIS, with broad bipartisan support, is somehow still being used as a political tool. I have to say: the cause is above politics. And it is time the government placed the future success of the NDIS above politics and just got on with the job of delivering it. Thank you very much.