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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 908


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (13:49): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. I am indeed pleased to see that this bill is currently before the House. The bill establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency. This will enable the scheme to be launched from July 2013.

The first stage of the scheme will benefit more than 20,000 people with a disability, their families and their carers living in South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, the Hunter in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria. The bill sets out the objects and principles under which the National Disability Insurance Scheme will operate. It gives effect to the following principles: the National Disability Insurance Scheme should take an insurance approach that shares the costs of disability services and supports across the community, will fund reasonable and necessary services and supports directly related to an eligible person's individual ongoing disability and will enable people with a disability to exercise more choice and control in their lives through a person-centred, self-directed approach with individualised funding.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency will be set up as a body independent from government to deliver the scheme. In addition, the agency will perform a range of functions including managing the financial sustainability of the scheme, building community awareness about disability and undertaking research about disability and social contributors to disability.

When I was first elected to this place, one of the first public events which I hosted was a forum for people with a disability and their families so that they could come along and talk about their experiences, their struggles and their priorities for improved services that might be provided by government. The forum was held at Tyndale Christian School, which kindly made available the venue. Tyndale had already shown leadership in the provision of disability services through a special focus the school had for children with a disability. The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services at the time, the Hon. Bill Shorten, was the keynote speaker and, importantly, was there to hear firsthand the stories and struggles raised. It was the first of three such forums that I have hosted, and at each forum the urgency for governments to act has become more and more evident.

Disability was not new to me. As Mayor of the City of Salisbury, I chaired the Disability Advisory Group, which the council set up to advise on how council could assist people with a disability through the provision of council services. Members of the reference group were all people with a disability, so their input was very insightful. As a result, the council embarked on an ambitious program of modifying buildings, footpaths, playgrounds and library services so that they could be more accessible to people with a disability. Furthermore, council employed a disability access officer to assist the advisory committee with its work and to establish a disability policy for the City of Salisbury. That person was Michael Taggart, a person born with vision impairment. Michael is now effectively legally blind. Michael has since been recognised here in Canberra by Minister Macklin—who is in the chamber today and who leads the government through this process—with a National Disability Award for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of people with a disability.

My association with disability does not end there. I have seen the struggles of family members and friends who have either been born with or later in life acquired a disability. I have visited the special schools for children with a disability, and I have worked with athletes with a disability. During my time in the fitness industry, I was involved in rehabilitation programs for people, many of whom would never go on to fully recover. I know only too well about the lifelong hardships and struggles faced by families where disability is present—struggles and hardship made worse by a lack of services available.

So, when the momentum for a national disability insurance scheme began to grow, I felt that finally, after years of neglect and avoidance, disability had become part of the national conversation. As a nation, for too long we had preferred to push disability aside and out of sight rather than confront our responsibilities. Disability has been put on the national agenda, and for hundreds of thousands of families around the country expectations have been raised. Finally, there is hope and optimism in their lives. It is now for the parliament and each member of this place to ensure that those expectations are met and that the hope becomes a reality.

Millions of Australians are counting on us. Let me make it very clear: I will continue to do all I can to ensure that the National Disability Insurance Scheme not only becomes a reality but also provides the level of support that makes a real difference for the better to people's lives. Delivery of a national disability insurance service is a complex challenge because of the range and nature of services required and the complexity about how those services can be best delivered. I have listened to many of the speakers in this debate, and I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of each member who has spoken in support of this legislation. But words will not deliver the scheme; funding will. There will never be spare funds and there will always be competing demands on government revenue, so funding will always be a convenient excuse not to proceed. I hope that that is not the case, and I am sure that that is not the case when I speak as a member of this government.

It is also true that no single entity or level of government is responsible for delivery of an NDIS and that the term 'disability' has a broad definition. However, anyone who uses these matters as excuses to delay the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme will be judged accordingly by the Australian people, particularly those for whom each day means another day of struggle. Delaying tactics will be seen for what they are. Just as universal health care was implemented by the Whitlam government, there is no reason why an NDIS cannot be similarly implemented. An initial scheme may not be perfect, but it can always be refined over time.

In speaking to this legislation, I pay tribute to those people and organisations who to date have shouldered the burden in our communities. I refer to the schools, the employers, the job search providers, the training organisations, the special industry sectors, the carers, the parents and even the young children who have become carers for their own parents. I have met with and spoken to so many of them in my local area. They are true heroes of our nation. I also refer to the economic contribution people with a disability can make to their local community and to the country. In my own electorate there are two of South Australia's largest employers of people with a disability. I refer to the Phoenix Society and to Bedford Industries. I know both organisations well. I have also visited their workplaces and seen firsthand the products and services they provide and the skills of their employees. Phoenix employs about 500 people across six work sites, I believe. Bedford Industries employs around 800.

Each year, as I did again on 23 December last year, I attend the Phoenix Society end-of-year employee award presentation event. I have in the past attended similar events at Bedford Industries. The camaraderie between employees, their work commitment, their sense of humour and the skills I have observed when I have visited their employment sites are a credit to all of them. Employees in these sectors can and do make an economic contribution to society. All that most of them ask is simply to be given an opportunity. I commend Phoenix CEO Ian Terry and his team for making the society's people with a disability feel valued by focusing on their abilities and not their disabilities.

Regrettably, there are not enough positions available to accommodate everyone that could work and is willing to work in a Phoenix Society or Bedford Industries workplace. I would urge any employers listening to consider, where an opportunity is available, employing a person with a disability, because in most cases it is their abilities that we should be focusing on, not their disability. Many of these people can fulfil and carry out jobs which they are quite often denied.

Of course the NDIS debate is complicated, because each disability is different, as is the level of ability. Nor is disability confined to a particular age group. For older members of our society, our aged-care structure provides a reasonable although not perfect support system. Again, how aged-care services will integrate into the NDIS is yet to be determined. Similar questions arise with respect to the provision of education services. I digress for a moment to commend those teachers and schools that have taken a special interest in ensuring that their schools provide appropriate education services for children with a disability.

The SPEAKER: Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.