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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 419


WYATT ROY (Longman) (11:54): I rise today to speak to the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012, the precursor to surely what will be one of the most important pieces of legislation in this place. Why is it so significant? Because a system of support for people with a disability is far more than just a simple system of support. At the core of Liberal philosophy is the tenet of freedom of choice. When people with a disability are properly supported, you open up their choices and possibilities, from the possibility of simply looking after themselves adequately to the possibility of finding greater fulfilment in life, including, perhaps, employment. So the long-term dividend of a fully resourced, universal National Disability Insurance Scheme is economic as much as social. If enough people with a disability are even somewhat freed from their daily emotional, mental and physical constraints, confidence grows and potential can be realised. Their families and carers, too, feel an easing in the burden of self-sacrifice Where possible, they, too, are free to explore wider options in the workforce or at leisure. They feel a sense of renewal and hope. They are free, perhaps for the first time, to accomplish something for themselves. And so such a scheme as the NDIS, quite aside from providing an effective safety net, actually ends up paying for itself in the long term.

As I have said in this place before, improving disability policy was one of my motivations for entering politics. One of my close mates suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. I worked as Pat's participation assistant at university, helping him attend classes. I have seen firsthand the numerous obstacles and roadblocks stemming from an overly bureaucratic disability system, a system focused on process instead of outcomes. As Australians, we like to believe that we are easygoing, accepting and all-inclusive. But the reality for many people living with disability is that it is like living in an exclusion zone, a place where there is minimal assistance and security apart from that provided by friends and family, where there are ignorance, stares and whispers and, too often, unkind remarks and treatment. The isolation and loneliness can be devastating.

In a country such as ours, with our traditions rooted in democracy and freedoms, it is our duty to wear our social conscience like a beacon. Australia's late, great and longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, founded the modern Liberal Party on this very principle. Menzies was a stronger believer in the virtues of initiative and enterprise. But his picture of society was of a free market system made all the richer by its obligations to the most vulnerable. For Menzies, social justice was an issue of rights before charity. 'The purpose of all measures of social security,' he said, 'is not only to provide citizens with some reasonable protection against misfortune but also to reconcile that provision with their proud independence and dignity as democratic citizens. The time has gone when social justice should even appear to take the form of social charity.' This is what a National Disability Insurance Scheme is all about—ensuring that every Australian has the best opportunity of a bright future, regardless of the obstacles seemingly in their way. A well-implemented NDIS should ensure that everyone with a disability will have not only the support they need for today but the support they need for a better, more dignified, and more productive life.

It would seem that members on both sides of this place agree that the need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme is inarguable. And yet, sadly, despite this cross-party support, the politicking has persisted.

The coalition is right behind the Productivity Commission recommendations for an NDIS and has pledged to work constructively with the government to implement them as soon as possible. This is a new deal and a new dawn for people with disabilities and their carers. Recognising this, the Productivity Commission states that the scheme will require a high level of consultation in its shaping. All Australians have a stake in the outcome, for it is not only our most vulnerable people today who will benefit. None of us know what disabilities could be visited upon us or our loved ones tomorrow. But the Labor Government has sought to claim the NDIS as its own, rejecting bipartisanship on a number of occasions, including the proposal by the opposition leader for a cross-party parliamentary committee to be chaired by both sides of politics to oversee the scheme's implementation across what will be several terms of parliament.

The scheme is set to be launched in five sites across Australia in July this year. Stage one will impact 20,000 people with a disability, and their families and carers, in South Australia, the ACT, Tasmania, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Barwon area of Victoria. Funding to individuals and organisations will support a broadly described range of assistance, from aids and equipment to the provision of supported accommodation or personal attendant care.

Late last year, the New South Wales state government and the Commonwealth struck an intergovernmental agreement for a full rollout of the NDIS in New South Wales beyond the launch site. However, expansion of the NDIS will be dependent on the federal government negotiating and concluding further bilateral agreements with each jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. And here there remains much uncertainty. In my home state, the Commonwealth has yet to reach an agreement with the Queensland government on how the NDIS will be funded in the long term. The Queensland Liberal-National government has submitted a proposal and is to be congratulated on its persistence in seeking a deal in spite of constant misrepresentation and politicking from the Labor Party and the Prime Minister.

Indeed, Queensland is a prime example of the Prime Minister's hedging on one of the Productivity Commission's key recommendations, and that is that the federal government alone come up with the additional funding for the NDIS as a supplement to the disability funding already supplied by the states and territories. The Prime Minister has indicated an intent, in defiance of the Productivity Commission, that the states and territories should part-sponsor the extra funding required for the NDIS. In doing this, she has also failed to recognise that last year, for example, the contribution by the state government in Queensland to disability services was already $920 million. That is compared to the assistance provided by the federal government of just $255 million.

While the coalition supported the government's budget commitment of $1 billion over four years for the first stage of the NDIS, the funding once again reveals a gulf between the Productivity Commission's objectives and the Prime Minister's actions. The amount fell almost $3 billion short of what the Productivity Commission estimated would be needed in those first critical four years. The states and territories should not be strongarmed into picking up the balance. This federal Labor government has short-changed the NDIS in those four years by $3 billion. To date, there also has been little from the government in terms of how individuals will be assessed, who will be eligible and the fine detail regarding the supports and services to be delivered.

The NDIS is a once-in-a-generation reform that will unfold over the life of several parliaments. We need to work together to get this right. It demands absolute cooperation between the Commonwealth, the states and politicians of all persuasions In fact, the politics needs to be left at the door. If we do not get the implementation right we stand to lose this opportunity not only for years but quite possibly for generations. But still the Prime Minister is not forthcoming on what will happen after the trials and the real NDIS begins. The coalition, on the other hand, is committed to the Productivity Commission's target date of a full NDIS by 2018-19.

Meantime, in my electorate alone there are many examples of waste of taxpayer moneys by the Prime Minister and her federal Labor government. The interest repayment on the more than $200 billion of debt incurred by this government since 2007 is about $7 billion a year. That is almost enough to fund the NDIS. If I could choose between providing an effective safety net for our most vulnerable people and school hall rip-offs or pink batts in homes, I know which road I would take. I do not want to see this incredibly important policy, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, compromised simply because those opposite could not rein in their addiction to wasteful spending on failed programs.

Government, at the end of the day, is always about priorities. In difficult economic circumstances brought on by the mismanagement of the Labor government, it remains important that we prioritise the NDIS and work together to make it the best that it can be. Any fair-minded Australian would agree with us.