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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 395

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (10:09): I rise today to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. This 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, and the agency to operate the launch, in five sites across Australia from July 2013.

The coalition have enthusiastically supported each milestone on the road to the NDIS. We supported the initial work by the Productivity Commission. We supported the $1 billion in the last budget. We supported the five launch sites. We supported the agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales for a full state-wide rollout after the Hunter launch. At 10,000 potential participants, the largest launch site of the NDIS is the Hunter, which in part encompasses my electorate of Paterson. As the shadow minister for tourism and regional development I can also see important linkages between the NDIS and the tourism industry, with mutual benefits across this nation.

The stated intent of the bill is to support the independence and social and economic participation of people with a disability. This is a worthy intent, and I would suggest that these concepts are interrelated. The importance of independence and social and economic participation both to people with a disability and to the wider society cannot be understated. Paralympian and world champion wheelchair sportsman Kurt Fearnley lives in the Hunter. In his Australia Day address last month, he asked:

Should we as Australians be grateful to be able to exist or should we ask to be given the chance to contribute and prosper?

Kurt believes the latter, and so do I—and hopefully this bill will provide an avenue for that if the scheme is adequately funded and managed. In that same address, Kurt called the current system 'broken'. Again, I agree with him. We all agree with him. The current system is broken.

This is not news. Two years ago, the Productivity Commission report Disability care and support noted that current disability support arrangements are 'inequitable, underfunded, fragmented and inefficient'. This bill is the great hope for repairing the system, by replacing it with something that offers greater flexibility and better funding.

We emphatically supported the government's commitment of $1 billion to the NDIS in the federal budget. However, we had some difficulty reconciling this figure with the $3.9 billion the Productivity Commission said would be necessary over the forward estimates for the first stage of the NDIS. This is a key point: if the scheme is not funded properly, it will fall into the same level of disrepair as the current model. And, at this point, the question of long-term funding is unclear. I can only assume that the government will account for future funding of the NDIS in the coming budget, because it would be nothing short of cruel for the government to offer hope to people with a disability through this bill only to snatch it away if they cannot sort out the funding.

The NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments, and it should be the property of the parliament as a whole, on behalf of the Australian people, rather than that of any particular political party. As Tony Abbott said in his Press Club speech last week:

The Coalition is so committed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, for instance, that we've offered to co-chair a bi-partisan parliamentary committee so that support for it doesn't flag across the three terms of parliament and among the nine different governments needed to make it work.

Sadly, the government rejected this offer of bipartisan management of the process. The lofty promise of this bill, offering as it does an alternative to the broken system, is all well and good, but it needs to be backed up by a solid, practical policy and sound implementation to ensure it functions effectively in the real world.

We could stand here all day and talk about the benefits of this bill for people with disability, but I want to make the point that, unless the benefits are realised in concrete, practical ways, it is all pointless. The coalition will of course work with the government to support this important bill, but I remain unconvinced that the government will get the funding and implementation right.

The central themes of this bill are choice and control: choice for people with a disability on the type of support they need and control over their own lives to the fullest extent possible. As concepts, these have largely been missing from the current system, a system in which demand often outstrips supply. I am hopeful that the NDIS, properly funded and implemented, will suffer from fewer problems than this current system. It can often be difficult for people with a disability to find the right contact point for inquiries or when seeking assistance, and I am pleased that this bill contains a 'no wrong door' approach, theoretically avoiding the endless referral loop that I know has been the experience of many people with a disability under the current system. Again, though, this needs to be implemented and managed properly for it to work. It is all too easy for agencies to operate in silos with little liaison or coordination. The NDIS Launch Transition Agency, although slated to be independent of government, will need to work effectively with other players in this space, including government departments where necessary, in order to best service and support people with a disability.

The Mai-Wel Group in Maitland is one of the biggest disability service providers in the lower Hunter. Its CEO, Pennie Kearney, welcomes this bill and the choice of the Hunter as a launch site for the scheme, noting, 'For a long time, people with a disability have required more of an opportunity to drive their own lives.' For Ms Kearney, the greatest benefit of the NDIS will be the chance it gives people with a disability, as well as disability service providers, to consider the circumstances of each individual holistically. Under the current model, the holistic needs of the individual are often not considered, simply because the system is not set up that way. This goes back to my earlier comments on the 'no wrong door' approach. I share Ms Kearney's enthusiasm for this more holistic approach but again caution that the scheme cannot be implemented in a silo; it will need a high level of consultation.

Indeed, Hunter disability service providers and other local businesses in the disability sector currently operate in a very cooperative and collaborative environment. Within the sector, this is seen as a major reason for the choice of the Hunter as a launch site, and it is something that will hopefully lead to a very successful trial there.

It is important to these Hunter organisations that quality service providers remain in place after the NDIS launch. The launch will impact the existing providers, simply because the administration of the scheme will be a relative unknown at first. Here I am talking about things like potential cash flow issues as organisations adapt to a different funding model.

The government is yet to release the draft set of NDIS rules, which will establish the mechanics of the scheme. The absence of these rules in any concrete form is clearly causing uncertainty in the disability sector. These uncertainties are real concerns for providers in the Hunter. On a larger scale, the funding and implementation of the NDIS in its entirety is a real concern for me and for those afflicted with a disability.

I am very aware of the issues facing those with disabilities, not just the individuals but also the carers, and of the effect on families. I have personal experience of the challenges facing people with a disability. My brother Bill is a diabetic, a double amputee and on dialysis, so I am very aware of the benefits to be had from a scheme that gives people control over decisions regarding their own support needs.

One of the most impassioned pleas I hear from my constituents is to have some peace of mind that there will be a system in place that will help care for their intellectually disabled children after they pass. My former next-door neighbours have never asked for a handout or respite in essentially caring for their 40-year-old daughter for her whole adult life. Fortunately, they have been able not only to save for their own retirement but to ensure that there is a nest egg for their daughter. They have bought her a duplex and are trying as best they can to ensure her independence after they pass. That being said, there is not a day that goes by where they do not worry about their daughter's future beyond their passing, even though other family members assure them all the time that they will take good care of her. I cannot imagine what it is like for a family that do not have the financial capacity to provide for their child's future as they face their own mortality. Providing peace of mind to these unsung heroes in our community should be front and centre of this scheme.

It was my close observation and understanding of autism that drove me to get members of my community, under the leadership of Hilton Grugeon, to build the Aspect autism school in Thornton. Again, reflecting on the words of Kurt Fearnley:

Should we as Australians be grateful to be able to exist or should we ask to be given the chance to contribute and prosper?

One of my fundamental beliefs is that we need to give every Australian the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential, and that includes those with disabilities. They should not, must not and cannot be hidden, and never let them be forgotten.

As I mentioned earlier, there are also linkages between the NDIS and my shadow portfolio of tourism and regional development. These linkages, of which the most significant is the promotion of barrier-free or accessible tourism, have been identified as a result of the whole-of-government approach the coalition takes to legislation and policy development. My federal colleagues Greg Hunt and Mitch Fifield take an active interest in this area, and I am also in regular contact with NSW Minister Andrew Constance with respect to accessible tourism.

In October last year, the Sunday Mail ran an article on the foundation of an online accommodation guide by so-called grey nomads, aimed at identifying venues that provide excellent services to less mobile Australians. Guides like this one prove that accessible tourism is a significant issue for travellers.

I have been working with the tourism industry over the last year or so to promote accessible tourism, including with the National Tourism Alliance. The alliance is considering the best way for the national Tourism Awards to drive interest in providing outstanding tourism services to people with a disability. There is currently a points system within the awards for barrier-free travel, but the alliance is considering what more it can do to promote accessible tourism, with my full support.

In addition, the NDIS will allow people with a disability and their families to access funding for things like in-hotel respite care, for example. This would advantage both the individuals involved and the wider tourism sector. It would essentially tap an untapped market of domestic tourists. An alliance between the tourism industry and the NDIS is a win-win situation. People with a disability and their families will be able to travel to what will hopefully eventually be a network of venues catering to family members who act as full-time carers.

The needs of family carers should not be omitted from discussions on this bill. The NDIS gives more control to people with a disability in deciding the level and type of support that they require. This is a great step in the right direction for the sector. But the needs of family carers, and how they can be indirectly assisted through the support the NDIS provides to the person they care for, should also be considered. Accessing funding through the NDIS for in-hotel respite care, or otherwise to enable people with a disability to take a family holiday, also benefits family carers and assists them to continue in that role by avoiding burnout. The Accommodation Association of Australia fully supports this concept and feels it has great merit for the accommodation sector as well as for people with a disability and their families.

The launch site of the Hunter offers a variety of great tourist attractions. I have raised the linkages between the NDIS and domestic tourism with venues in this region, which are very supportive of the concept and interested in further exploring the mutual benefits that it presents.

Many venues are in fact already promoting accessible tourism in the area, with wheelchair access. A working model of this concept, taking advantage of the mutual benefits for people with a disability and the domestic tourism sector, to be based at a venue in the Hunter, could light a path for venues nationally.

Ultimately, this bill is a good thing. In fact, it promises great things for people with a disability. I welcome the choice of the Hunter as a launch site, and I feel sure that the existing disability service providers in the area will work closely with the launch agency to make the trial a resounding success. In the long term, however, I have concerns, as I have said before, over the funding of the scheme and the current government's ability to implement the launch. I do not want to see people with a disability, and disability service providers, attracted by the shining star of the NDIS only to be delivered a black hole of empty promises. Without proper funding and careful implementation, this scheme will be useless.

I support the legislation before the House, as do my colleagues, and we look forward to the review of the legislation in two years to make sure that it is meeting the needs it was designed to serve. I support this legislation.