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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 424

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (12:20): I support the NDIS. I have always supported the NDIS. During the 2010 campaign, the only time all four candidates came together was in a forum for the disability sector. To hear stories of people who have lived their lives with a disability is one thing, to hear stories of people who have had disability thrust upon them is another and to hear stories of family members who care for people with a disability is another level of commitment that I am positive I could never emulate. For all those reasons I support the NDIS. For all those people I support the NDIS.

As Tony Abbott has often said, it is an idea whose time has come. Like the member for Fraser, I congratulate the former parliamentary secretary, Bill Shorten, for making this an issue once again. But, if we miss it this time and do not implement a strategy which is (a) effective and (b) sustainable, we will be letting down our country and future generations of all Australians.

For me, we seem to have centred the debate on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012 on the people who already know what goes on in the system. We have centred the debate on the people who are already in the system, and we seem to be trying to convince them that the NDIS is a good thing. Come on people: stop wasting time! If we do anything at all for people with a disability they will lap it up—especially in rural and regional areas. What they want is for all of us to get the plan together and get it started.

I was contacted by disability campaigner Scott Stidston towards the end of last year. He told me he wanted me to support the introduction of legislation for the NDIS. I said I would look at what the government was proposing and would support the meritorious parts. Scott gave me such a hard time and told me in no uncertain terms what he thought of that statement. I had to tell him I would support the NDIS if it was, as I said earlier, effective and sustainable. I would not and could not support something which would leave people, already in a bad situation, in a worse position.

I may be paraphrasing Scott, but he said to me that there was no way he could be in a worse position. He is in a wheelchair in Ayr, 85 kilometres south of Townsville. His body hurts every day. His wife's body hurts every day as she has to do everything for him and lift him all the time. His heart hurts every day because she never signed up to do this for him. He wants to take some pressure off her. He has the disability, but he wants the NDIS for her. He wants the NDIS for all the people who live with a disability in a regional or rural area. We need to be proud that we can provide a service to people with a disability whether they live in Chatswood or Charters Towers, Toorak or Townsville. We need to treat people with equality across the country.

I have a mate who lives in Townsville. He is a good bloke with a good sense of humour. But he has a disability and, when you talk about support for disability, he gets serious. He told me that his mum still has to wash him every day. He is a man—a strong man who has his mum see and wash his whole body every day. He wants the NDIS so he can have some support which is very personal to him. These are the things the NDIS should do.

I say again: I will not support anything which leaves the very people in most need worse off. At the moment, the legislation before us is powder-puff light. The government has politicised the NDIS, first by flat-out refusing the coalition's numerous offers of bipartisanship on an NDIS development and implementation committee, and then by preaching that the NDIS is the embodiment of, in some way, quintessentially Labor values. We need to step away from this sort of language and these sorts of actions. We need to roll up our sleeves and get this done. If we try to make this a political football, we will end up with nothing. I have often said back home in Townsville that my worst fear for the NDIS is that one day I will be walking down my street and see a bloke mowing his lawn in an NDIS polo shirt and no-one will know what it stood for. We have this opportunity and we must work cooperatively.

Kevin Andrews visited my electorate last year. The member for Menzies was there to hold a series of forums around families and the NDIS. At our disability forum, Garth Brimelow took the microphone and asked everyone in the room to stand up. He then asked us to look at those still sitting. His message was very simple: get the thing done and get it done quickly. He has on more than one occasion offered to come to Canberra, wheel in here and address us all. I am not sure if this chamber is ready for the language he may use, but none would dispute his passion for this cause.

Garth was hurt in a work accident. He has been in a wheelchair ever since. He has been in pain ever since. But he is more active than most people in my community. Quite apart from making an absolute nuisance of himself in my office, he can be seen at every North Queensland Cowboys home game, selling doubles or cooking a barbecue as part of the Cowboys Supporters Team and community fund. He is a mentor to just about every new entrant to the disability sector. He has a way about him which is both engaging and challenging to people. He will spend time with the injured person and their family. He will walk the family through the system with which they are about to do battle—and I do not use that word lightly. He will talk to the injured person about the life they can lead, if they want. He is on the phone all the time. When he is not, he is driving around in his big red Jeep going to another fundraiser or to help another person or to smack another politician around the back of the head.

I use Garth as an example of many people in my community. Indeed, Garth is in all our communities. He exists in different forms and different genders, but he is there in every community. We all have these people who tell us what should be done. Because there are problems ahead, we must have the best advice we can get, not just from academics but from people already dealing with the system.

It is very tough for any person inside the disability sector, and we all know that. To get the support you need, you have to prove how badly hurt the person is. The current system forces parents and carers to give away jobs and put their own lives aside to help the people they love so much, so they paint the picture of their circumstances negatively. I love my children and I will tell anyone who will listen just how wonderful they are. It is natural for any parent. But to get support from the disability sector, carers must put down in writing just how hard it is for them to cope with someone with a disability, how badly their child or loved one is disabled and how much inconvenience they suffer because of that disability. If they do not, they will miss out on that support. As the member for McMillan said earlier, they will miss out on those extra hours. And they have to make the person they love complicit in this process. As a parent of three healthy and happy people, that is the most upsetting thing I have encountered. It must stop.

We must have the conversations that matter. We have to decide who is in and who is not. At the moment, the boundaries are, probably by necessity, broad and vague, but there will come a time when we will have to draw a line in the sand. We have to have the conversation as to where that line will be drawn. We have to have the conversation about what we say to people who are just on the wrong side of that line. As with the current disability system, there are going to be cracks through which people will fall. Currently the cracks are very large and high in number. We have to reduce the number of cracks and we have to narrow the remaining cracks down. But we have to continually acknowledge that there will always be exceptions to the rules. There will always be grey areas. There will always be people, real people with real problems, coming to us with another example of something we might have missed. We have to have, as part of the NDIS, quick responses to these situations. We need to have the discussion about who qualifies.

I have a mate who suffers terribly with agoraphobia, depression and chronic pain. But he can walk, so is he covered? We heard the member for Fraser talk about people with Down syndrome. Are they covered? I have had someone actually say to me that they were wondering if their spectacles would be covered, 'because partial blindness could be considered a disability'. Now, while that is an extreme example, it does illustrate that we have a long way to go here.

We cannot talk about the NDIS without talking about funding, and you cannot talk about funding without talking about sustainable funding. I was pleased and proud to hear Andrew Robb state, on behalf of the coalition, that the NDIS is a priority for the coalition. Government is about priorities. If you want to afford something, you will. With that statement, the shadow finance minister stated that we would make this work, and I will do everything I can to ensure that this is a reality in line with the timetable.

I was disappointed that the trial announced by the government was not funded to the amount recommended by the Productivity Commission. I was disappointed with the way the Prime Minister brought it to a head with the state premiers. I could go on about debt and deficit, but I would be falling into the trap of making political points, and I will be belted by the likes of Scott and Garth and everyone in North Queensland when I go back home, for saying such things.

We need to decide how this will be funded in perpetuity. I was invited to an Every Australian Counts morning tea just after I was elected. I was there with members of the Townsville City Council and then state members of parliament. We were asked to sign our pledge of support for the NDIS. All the councillors signed away and put their names up on the board, as did the local state member. I put my name up on the board and said I supported it, but I made the point that no decision on how it was to be funded had been made. I posed the question that if it was to be funded by a levy on the council rates, would the councillors be so supportive? I asked, if it was to be funded through a levy collected on car registrations, would the state members be so supportive? I doubt very much that either of these are an option but, again, it does illustrate that we have to be clear, concise, and very much up-front about the cost and how it will be sustained. And it must be stated that it is our job to come up with this and to sell it to the people who will be paying for it.

If there was ever a chance to show the people of Australia that the Federation model is not broken, it is this NDIS. If there was ever a chance for the states to show that they still matter, it is this NDIS. If there was ever a chance for the federal government to show it can lead the country in things that matter, it is the NDIS. I understand that the way the PM put it to the state premiers was an open invitation to be defensive. I understand that the way the PM put it to the states was almost diametrically opposed to what the Productivity Commission proposed and recommended. I understand that the states are by far and away the largest providers of services to the disability sector. But I do not think I would be alone in saying that this whole thing could have been better handled. It would seem to many to be another example of politics getting in the way of good policy. Try making political points using the NDIS to Garth Brimelow or Scott Stidson; I dare anyone.

We need to get the NDIS agreed to by all Australians. Too many Australians do not know just how close they are to being a part of this system. Too many Australians think that disability is only for those born that way. Too many Australians do not understand that you are only one accident away from having you mum or wife wipe your backside for the rest of your life. We need to make them understand that this is for all Australians. The NDIS matters to all of us. The sooner we get that message out to football clubs, athletics clubs, netball clubs, swimming clubs, BMX and motor bike clubs, chess clubs and art societies, the better off we will be—not just to hospitals and the people already in the system; we need all Australians to understand that every Australian counts.

Last year I did the Chatterbox Challenge for a series of charities. For a day, I had to be quiet; I could not speak. I raised over $3,000. People were just happy for the peace! At any time, I could have spoken, and I could have stood up. So what does it actually prove? Yes, it raises some valuable money. Yes, it might raise some awareness. But at any stage you can stand up. Garth Brimelow would do anything, and Scott Stidson would do anything, to be able to walk again and to take care of themselves. So all that stuff must be there.

We can do this. To be a member of a nation's parliament that delivers the world's first National Disability Insurance Scheme would be a great personal achievement, but it would pale into insignificance compared with what it means to someone who lives their life inside the disability system. We have a chance to make a difference, and I think what we all have to do is take a step back and work together. We can make this happen, and we can make it happen now. I thank the House.